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FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 




QUEEN ELIZABETH AS A YOUNG WOMAN 



FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 



BY 



BRAM STOKER 

AUTHOR OF "DRACULA," " PERSONAL REMINISCENCES OF 
HENRY IRVING," ETC., ETC. 



ILLUSTRATED 



IWew Korft 

STURGIS & WALTON 

COMPANY 

1910 

All rights reserved 



Copyright 1910 
By BRAM STOKER 



Set up and electrotyped. Published November, 1910 



PREFACE 

The subject of imposture is always an interest- 
ing one, and impostors in one shape or another are 
likely to flourish as long as human nature remains 
what it is, and society shows itself ready to be 
gulled. The histories of famous cases of im- 
posture in this book have been grouped together to 
show that the art has been practised in many forms 
— impersonators, pretenders, swindlers, and hum- 
bugs of all kinds; those who have masqueraded in 
order to acquire wealth, position, or fame, and 
those who have done so merely for the love of the 
art. So numerous are instances, indeed, that the 
book cannot profess to exhaust a theme which 
might easily fill a dozen volumes; its purpose is 
simply to collect and record a number of the best 
known instances. The author, nevertheless, whose 
largest experience has lain in the field of fiction, 
has aimed at dealing with his material as with the 
material for a novel, except that all the facts given 
are real and authentic. He has made no attempt 
to treat the subject ethically; yet from a study of 
these impostors, the objects they had in view, the 
means they adopted, the risks they ran, and the 
punishments which attended exposure, any reader 
can draw his own conclusions. 



281612 



VI 



PREFACE 



Impostors of royalty are placed first on account 
of the fascinating glamour of the throne which has 
allured so many to the attempt. Perkin Warbeck 
began a life of royal imposture at the age of seven- 
teen and yet got an army round him and dared to 
make war on Harry Hotspur before ending his 
short and stormy life on the gallows. With a 
crown for stake, it is not surprising that men have 
been found willing to run even such risks as those 
taken by the impostors of Sebastian of Portugal 
and Louis XVII of France. That imposture, 
even if unsuccessful, may be very difficult to detect, 
is shown in the cases of Princess Olive and Cag- 
liostro, and in those of Hannah Snell, Mary 
East, and the many women who in military and 
naval, as well as in civil, life assumed and main- 
tained even in the din of battle the simulation of 
men. 

One of the most extraordinary and notorious im- 
postures ever known was that of Arthur Orton, the 
Tichborne Claimant, whose ultimate exposure ne- 
cessitated the employment, at great public expense 
of time and money, of the best judicial and forensic 
wits in a legal process of unprecedented length. 

The belief in witches, though not extinct in our 
country even to-day, affords examples of the con- 
verse of imposture, for in the majority of cases it 
was the superstitions of society which attributed 
powers of evil to innocent persons whose subse- 



PREFACE vii 

quent mock-trials and butchery made a public holi- 
day for their so-called judges. 

The long-continued doubt as to the true sex of 
the Chevalier D'Eon shows how a belief, no mat- 
ter how groundless, may persist. Many cases of 
recent years may also be called in witness as to the 
initial credulity of the public, and to show how ob- 
stinacy maintains a belief so begun. The Hum- 
bert case — too fresh in the public memory to de- 
mand treatment here — the Lemoine case, and the 
long roll of other fraudulent efforts to turn the 
credulity of others to private gain, show how wide- 
spread is the criminal net, and how daring and per- 
severing are its manipulators. 

The portion of the book which deals with the 
tradition of the "Bisley Boy" has had, as it de- 
manded, more full and detailed treatment than any 
other one subject in the volume. Needless to say, 
the author was at first glance inclined to put the 
whole story aside as almost unworthy of serious at- 
tention, or as one of those fanciful matters which 
imagination has elaborated out of the records of the 
past. The work which he had undertaken had, 
however, to be done, and almost from the very start 
of earnest enquiry it became manifest that here was 
a subject which could not be altogether put aside 
or made light of. There were too many circum- 
stances — matters of exact record, striking in them- 
selves and full of some strange mystery, all point- 



Vlll 



PREFACE 



ing to a conclusion which one almost feared to 
grasp as a possibility — to allow the question to be 
relegated to the region of accepted myth. A little 
preliminary work amongst books and maps seemed 
to indicate that so far from the matter, vague and 
inchoate as it was, being chimerical, it was one for 
the most patient examination. It looked, indeed, 
as if those concerned in making public the local 
tradition, which had been buried or kept in hiding 
somewhere for three centuries, were on the verge 
of a discovery of more than national importance. 
Accordingly, the author, with the aid of some 
friends at Bisley and its neighbourhood, went over 
the ground, and, using his eyes and ears, came to 
his own conclusions. Further study being thus ne- 
cessitated, the subject seemed to open out in a nat- 
ural way. One after another the initial difficulties 
appeared to find their own solutions and to vanish ; 
a more searching investigation of the time and cir- 
cumstances showed that there was little if any diffi- 
culty in the way of the story being true in essence 
if not in detail. Then, as point after point arising 
from others already examined, assisted the story, 
probability began to take the place of possibility; 
until the whole gradually took shape as a chain, 
link resting in the strength of link and forming a 
cohesive whole. That this story impugns the 
identity — and more than the identity — of Queen 
Elizabeth, one of the most famous and glorious 
rulers whom the world has seen, and hints at an ex- 



PREFACE 



IX 



planation of circumstances in the life of that mon- 
arch which have long puzzled historians, will entitle 
it to the most serious consideration. In short, if it 
be true, its investigation will tend to disclose the 
greatest imposture known to history; and to this 
end no honest means should be neglected. 

B. S. 



CONTENTS 



CHAPTER 



PAGE 
I. PRETENDERS 1 

A. Perkin Warbeck 3 

B. The Hidden King 17 

C. Stephan Mali .31 

D. The False Dauphins .36 

E. Princess Olive . . 49 

II. Practitioners of Magic . . . ....... 69 

A. Paracelsus . . 71 

B. Cagliostro 80 

C. Mesmer 95 

III. The Wandering Jew 107 

IV. John Law 123 

V. Witchcraft and Clairvoyance 145 

A. Witches 147 

B. Doctor Dee i55 

C. La Voisin 164 

D. Sir Edward Kelley . . . • • .175 

E. Mother Damnable 182 

F. Matthew Hopkins 190 

VI. Arthur Orton (Tichborne claimant) . . . 201 

VII. Women as Men 227 

A. The Motive for Disguise 227 

B. Hannah Snell 231 

C. La Maupin 235 

D. Mary East 241 



\ 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

VIII. Hoaxes, etc 249 

A. Two London Hoaxes 249 

B. The Cat Hoax 255 

C. The Military Review 256 

D. The Toil-Gate 256 

E. The Marriage Hoax 257 

F. Buried Treasure . . 258 

G. Dean Swift's Hoax ...... 259 

H. Hoaxed Burglars . 260 

I. Bogus Sausages . 260 

J. The Moon Hoax 262 

IX. Chevalier d'Eon ............ 269 

X. The Bisley Boy . 283 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

Queen Elizabeth as a Young Woman . . Frontispiece 

FACING PAGE 

Perkin Warbeck 4< 

Edward IV as a Young Man 12 

Olivia Serres 50 

Cagliostro 80 

John Law 124; 

Arthur Orton 202 

The Chevalier D'Eon 270 

The Duke of Richmond 326 

The Duchess of Richmond 33-1 



I. PRETENDERS 



FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

A. PERKIN WARBECK 

RICHARD III literally carved his way to 
the throne of England. It would hardly 
be an exaggeration to say that he waded 
to it through blood. Amongst those who suffered 
for his unscrupulous ambition were George Duke 
of Clarence, his own elder brother, Edward Prince 
of Wales, who on the death of Edward IV was 
the natural successor to the English throne, and 
the brother of the latter, Richard Duke of York. 
The two last mentioned were the princes murdered 
in the Tower by their malignant uncle. These three 
murders placed Richard Duke of Gloucester on 
the throne, but at a cost of blood as well as of lesser 
considerations which it is hard to estimate. Rich- 
ard III left behind him a legacy of evil conse- 
quences which was far-reaching. Henry VII, who 
succeeded him, had naturally no easy task in steer- 
ing through the many family complications result- 
ing from the long-continued "Wars of the Roses" ; 
but Richard's villany had created a new series of 
complications on a more ignoble, if less criminal, 

3 



4 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

base. When Ambition, which deals in murder on 
a wholesale scale, is striving its best to reap the 
results aimed at, it is at least annoying to have the 
road to success littered with the debris of lesser and 
seemingly unnecessary crimes. Fraud is socially 
a lesser evil than murder; and after all — humanly 
speaking — much more easily got rid of. Thrones 
and even dynasties were in the melting pot be- 
tween the reigns of Edward III and Henry VII ; 
so there were quite sufficient doubts and perplexities 
to satisfy the energies of any aspirant to royal 
honours — however militant he might be. Henry 
VII's time was so far unpropitious that he was the 
natural butt of all the shafts of unscrupulous ad- 
venture. The first of these came in the person 
of Lambert Simnel, the son of a baker, who in 
1486 set himself up as Edward Plantagenet, Earl 
of Warwick — then a prisoner in the Tower — son 
of the murdered Duke of Clarence. It was mani- 
festly a Yorkist plot, as he was supported by 
Margaret Duchess Dowager of Burgundy (sister 
of Edward IV) and others. With the assistance 
of the Lord-Deputy (the Earl of Kildare) he was 
crowned in Dublin as King Edward VI. The 
pretensions of Simnel were overthrown by the ex- 
hibition of the real Duke of Warwick, taken from 
prison for the purpose. The attempt would have 
been almost comic but that the effects were tragic. 
Simnel's span of notoriety was only a year, the 
close of which was attended with heavy slaughter 







PERKIN WARBECK 



PERKIN WARBECK 5 

of his friends and mercenaries. He himself faded 
into the obscurity of the minor life of the King's 
household to which he was contemptuously rele- 
gated. In fact the whole significance of the plot 
was that it was the first of a series of frauds con- 
sequent on the changes of political parties, and 
served as a baton d'essai for the more serious im- 
posture of Perkin Warbeck some five years after- 
wards. It must, however, be borne in mind that 
Simnel was a pretender on his own account and not 
in any way a "pacemaker" for the later criminal; 
he was in the nature of an unconscious forerunner, 
but without any ostensible connection. Simnel 
went his way, leaving, in the words of the kingly 
murderer his uncle, the world free for his successor 
in fraud "to bustle in." 

The battle of Stoke, near Newark — the battle 
which saw the end of the hopes of Simnel and his 
upholders — was fought on 16 June, 1487. Five 
years afterwards Perkin Warbeck made his ap- 
pearance in Cork as Richard Plantagenet Duke of 
York. The following facts regarding him and his 
life previous to 1492 may help to place the reader 
in a position to understand other events and to find 
causes through the natural gateway of effects. 

To Jehan Werbecque (or Osbeck as he was 
called in Perkin's "confession"), Controller of the 
town of Tournay in Picardy, and his wife, nee 
Katherine de Faro, was born in 1474, a son chris- 
tened Pierrequin and later known as Perkin War- 



6 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

beck. The Low Countries in the fifteenth century 
were essentially manufacturing and commercial, 
and, as all countries were at that period of necessity 
military, growing" youths were thus in touch at many 
points with commerce, industry and war. Jehan 
Werbecque's family was of the better middle class, 
as witness his own position and employment; and 
so his son spent the earlier years of his life amid 
scenes and conditions conducive to ambitious 
dreams. He had an uncle John Stalyn of Ghent. 
A maternal aunt was married to Peter Flamme, 
Receiver of Tournay and also Dean of the Guild 
of Schelde Boatmen. A cousin, John Steinbeck, 
was an official of Antwerp. 

In the fifteenth century Flanders was an 
important region in the manufacturing and com- 
mercial worlds. It was the centre of the cloth in- 
dustry; and the coming and going of the material 
for the clothing of the world made prosperous the 
shipmen not only of its own waters but those of 
others. The ships of the pre-Tudor navy were 
small affairs and of light draught suitable for river 
traffic, and be sure that the Schelde with its facility 
of access to the then British port of Calais, to Lille, 
to Brussels, to Bruges, to Tournai, Ghent, and 
Antwerp, was often itself a highway to the scenes 
of Continental and British wars. 

About 1483 or 1484, on account of the Flemish 
War, Pierrequin left Tournay, proceeding to Ant- 
werp, and to Middleburg, where he took service 



PERKIN WARBECK 7 

with a merchant, John Strewe, he being then a 
young boy of ten or twelve. His next move was 
to Portugal, whither he went with the wife of Sir 
Edward Brampton, an adherent of the House of 
York. A good deal of his early life is told in his 
own confession made whilst he was a prisoner in 
the Tower about 1497. 

In Portugal he was for a year in the service of a 
Knight named Peter Vacz de Cogna, who, accord- 
ing to a statement in his confession, had only one 
eye. In the Confession he also states in a general 
way that with de Cogna he visited other countries. 
After this he was with a Breton merchant, Pregent 
Meno, of whom he states incidentally: "he made me 
learn English." Pierrequin Werbecque must have 
been a precocious boy — if all his statements are 
true — for when he went to Ireland in 1491 with 
Pregent Meno he was only seventeen years of age, 
and there had been already crowded into his life a 
fair amount of the equipment for enterprise in the 
shape of experience, travel, languages, and so 
forth. 

It is likely that, to some extent at all events, the 
imposture of Werbecque, or Warbeck, was forced 
on him in the first instance, and was not a free act 
on his own part. His suitability to the part he was 
about to play was not altogether his own doing. 
Nay, it is more than possible that his very blood 
aided in the deception. Edward IV is described 
as a handsome debonair young man, and Perkin 



8 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Warbeck it is alleged, bore a marked likeness to 
him. Horace Walpole indeed in his Historic 
Doubts builds a good deal on this in his acceptance 
of his kingship. Edward was notoriously a man of 
evil life in the way of affairs of passion, and at all 
times the way of ill-doing has been made easy for 
a king. Any student of the period and of the race 
of Plantagenet may easily accept it as fact that the 
trend of likelihood if not of evidence is that Per- 
kin Warbeck was a natural son of Edward IV. 
Three hundred years later the infamous British 
Royal Marriage Act made such difficulties or in- 
conveniences as beset a king in the position of 
Edward IV unnecessary: but in the fifteenth cen- 
tury the usual way out of such messes was ultimate- 
ly by the sword. Horace Walpole, who was a 
clever and learned man, was satisfied that the per- 
son who was known as Perkin Warbeck was in 
reality that Richard Duke of York who was sup- 
posed to have been murdered in the Tower in 1483 
by Sir James Tyrrell, in furtherance of the am- 
bitious schemes of his uncle. At any rate the peo- 
ple in Cork in 1491 insisted on receiving Perkin 
as of the House of York — at first as a son of the 
murdered Duke of Clarence. Warbeck took oath 
to the contrary before the Mayor of Cork; where- 
upon the populace averred that he was a natural son 
of Richard III. This, too, having been denied by 
the newcomer, it was stated that he was the son of 
the murdered Duke of York. 



PERKIN WARBECK 9 

It cannot be denied that the Irish people were in 
this matter as unstable as they were swift in their 
judgments, so that their actions are really not of 
much account. Five years before they had re- 
ceived the adventurer Lambert Simnel as their 
king, and he had been crowned at Dublin. In any 
case the allegations of Warbeck's supporters did 
not march with established facts of gynecology. 
The murdered Duke of York was born in 1472, 
and, as not twenty years elapsed between this 
period and Warbeck's appearance in Ireland, there 
was not time in the ordinary process of nature, for 
father and son to have arrived at such a quality of 
manhood that the latter was able to appear as full 
grown. Even allowing for an unusual swiftness 
of growth common sense evidently rebelled at this, 
and in 1492 Perkin Warbeck was received in his 
final semblance of the Duke of York, himself 
younger son of Edward IV. Many things were 
possible at a period when the difficulties of voyage 
and travel made even small distances insuperable. 
At the end of the fifteenth century Ireland was still 
so far removed from England that even Warbeck's 
Irish successes, emphasised though they were by 
the Earls of Desmond and Kildare and a numer- 
ous body of supporters, were unknown in England 
till considerably later. This is not strange if one 
will consider that not until centuries later was there 
a regular postal system, and that nearly two cen- 
turies later the Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew 



10 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Hale, who was^a firm believer in witchcraft, would 
have condemned such a thing as telegraphy as an 
invention of the Devil. 

In the course of a historical narrative like the 
present it must be borne in mind (amongst other 
things) that in the fifteenth century, men ripened 
more quickly than in the less strenuous and more 
luxurious atmosphere of our own day. Especially 
in the Tudor epoch physical gifts counted for far 
more than is now possible; and as early (and too 
often sudden) death was the general lot of those 
in high places, the span of working life was pro- 
longed rather by beginning early than by finish- 
ing late. Even up to the time of the Napoleonic 
Wars, promotion was often won with a rapidity 
that would seem like an ambitious dream to young 
soldiers of to-day. Perkin Warbeck, born in 1474, 
was nineteen years of age in 1493, at which time the 
Earl of Kildare spoke of "this French lad," yet 
even then he was fighting King Henry VII, the 
Harry Richmond who had overthrown at Bosworth 
the great and unscrupulous Richard III. It must 
also be remembered for a proper understanding of 
his venture, that Perkin Warbeck was strongly sup- 
ported and advised with great knowledge and sub- 
tlety by some very resolute and influential persons. 
Amongst these, in addition to his Irish "Cousins" 
Kildare and Desmond, was Margaret, Duchess of 
Burgundy, sister of Edward IV, who helped the 
young adventurer in his plot by "coaching" him up 



PERKIN WARBECK 11 

in the part which he was to play, to such an extent 
that, according to Lord Bacon, he was familiar 
with the features of his alleged family and rela- 
tives and even with the sort of questions likely to 
be asked in this connection. In fact he was, in the- 
atrical parlance, not only properly equipped but 
"letter-perfect" in his part. Contemporary au- 
thority gives as an additional cause for this per- 
sonal knowledge, that the original Jehan de 
Warbecque was a converted Jew, brought up in 
England, of whom Edward IV was the godfather. 
In any case it may in this age be accepted as a fact 
that there was between Edward IV and Perkin 
Warbeck so strong a likeness as to suggest a prima 
facie possibility, if not a probability, of paternity. 
Other possibilities crowd in to the support of such 
a guess till it is likely to achieve the dimensions of 
a belief. Even without any accuracy of historical 
detail there is quite sufficient presumption to justify 
guess-work on general lines. It were a compara- 
tively easy task to follow the lead of Walpole and 
create a new "historic doubt" after his pattern, the 
argument of which would run thus: 

After the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury in 
1471, Edward IV had but little to contend against. 
His powerful foes were all either dead or so ut- 
terly beaten as to be powerless for effective war. 
The Lancastrian hopes had disappeared with the 
death of Henry VI in the Tower. Margaret of 
Anjou (wife of Henry VI) defeated at Tewkes- 



12 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

bury, was in prison. Warwick had been slain at 
Barnet, and so far as fighting was concerned, King 
Edward had a prolonged holiday. It was these 
years of peace — when the coming and going of 
even a king was unrecorded with that precision 
which marks historical accuracy — that made the 
period antecedent to Perkin's birth. Perkin bore 
an unmistakable likeness to Edward IV. Not 
merely that resemblance which marks a family or 
a race but an individual likeness. Moreover the 
young manhood of the two ran on parallel lines. 
Edward was born in 1442, and in 1461, before he 
was nineteen, won the battle of Mortimer's Cross 
which, with Towton, placed him on the throne. 
Perkin Warbeck at seventeen made his bid for 
royalty. It is hardly necessary to consider what 
is a manifest error in Perkin's Confession — that 
he was only nine years old, not eleven, at the time 
of the murder of Edward V. Nineteen was young 
enough in all conscience to begin an intrigue for 
a crown; but if the Confession is to be accepted as 
gospel this would make him only seventeen at the 
time of his going to Ireland — a manifest impos- 
sibility. Any statement regarding one's own 
birth is manifestly not to be relied on. At best 
such can only be an assertion minus the possibility 
of testing whence an error might come. Regard- 
ing his parentage, in case it may be alleged that 
there is no record of the wife of Jehan Warbecque 
having been in England, it may be allowed to re- 




EDWARD IV AS A YOUNG MAN 



PERKIN WARBECK 1& 

call a story which Alfred, Lord Tennyson used to 
say was amongst the hundred best stories. It ran 
thus : 

A noble at the Court of Louis XIV was 
extremely like the King, who on its being 
pointed out to him sent for his double and 
asked him: 

"Was your mother ever at Court?" 

Bowing low, he replied: 

"No, sire; but my father was!" 

Of course Perkin Warbeck's real adventures, in 
the sense of dangers, began after his claim to be 
the brother of Edward V was put forward. 
Henry VII was not slow in taking whatever steps 
might be necessary to protect his crown; there had 
been but short shrift for Lambert Simnel, and 
Perkin Warbeck was a much more dangerous as- 
pirant. When Charles VIII invited him to Paris, 
after the war with France had broken out, Hemy 
besieged Boulogne and made a treaty under which 
Perkin Warbeck was dismissed from France. 
After making an attempt to capture Waterford, 
the adventurer transferred the scene of his endeav- 
ours from Ireland to Scotland which offered him 
greater possibilities for intrigue on account of the 
struggles between James IV and Henry VII. 
James, who finally found it necessary to hasten his 
departure, seemed to believe really in his preten- 



14 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

sions, for he gave him in marriage a kinswoman of 
his own, Catherine Gordon, daughter of the Earl 
of Huntly — who by the way was re-married no 
less than three times after Perkin Warbeck's death. 
Through the influence of Henry VII, direct or 
indirect, Perkin had to leave Scotland as he had 
been previously forced from Burgundy and the 
Low Countries. Country after country having 
been closed to him, he made desperate efforts in 
Cornwall, where he captured St. Michael's Mount, 
and in Devon, where he laid siege to Exeter. This 
however being raised by the Royal forces, he sought 
sanctuary in Beaulieu in the New Forest where, 
on promise of his life, he surrendered. He was 
sent to the Tower and well treated ; but on attempt- 
ing to escape thence a year later, 1499, he was 
taken. He was hanged at Tyburn in the same 
year. 

Pierrequin Warbecque's enterprise was in any 
case a desperate one and bound to end tragically — 
unless, of course, he could succeed in establishing 
his (alleged) claim to the throne in law and then 
in supporting it at great odds. The latter would 
necessitate his vanquishing two desperate fighting 
men both of them devoid of fear or scruples. 
— Richard III and Henry VII. In any case he 
had the Houses of Lancaster, Plantagenet and 
Tudor against him and he fought with the rope 
round his neck. 



PERKIN WARBECK 15 

An Act of Parliament, 1 Richard III, Cap. 15, 
made at Westminster on the 23 Jan., 1485, pre- 
cluded all possibility — even if Warbeck should have 
satisfied the nation of his identity — of a legal claim 
to the throne, for it forbade any recognition of the 
offspring of Lady Elizabeth Grey to whom Ed- 
ward IV was secretly married, in May, 1464, the 
issue of which marriage were Edward V and his 
brother, Richard. The act is short and is worth 
reading, if only for its quaint phraseology. 

Cap XV. Item for certayn great causes and consideracions 
touchynge the suretye of the kynges noble persone as 
of this realme, by the advyce and assente of his lordes 
spirituall and temporal, and the commons in this pres- 
ent parliament assembled, and by the auctorite of the 
same. It is ordeined established and enacted, that all 
letters patentes, states confrymacions and actes of par- 
lyament of anye castels seignowries, maners, landes, 
teneinentes, fermes, fee fermes, franchises, liberties, or 
other hereditamentes made at any tyme to Elizabeth 
late wyfe of syr John Gray Knight; and now late call- 
inge her selfe queene of England, by what so ever name 
or names she be called in the same, shalbe from the fyrst 
day of May last past utterly voyd, adnulled and of no 
strengthe nor effecte in the lawe. And that no person 
or persons bee charged to our sayde soveraygne lord the 
Kynge, nor to the sayde Elyzabeth, of or for any is- 
sues, prifites, or revenues of any of the sayde seignowries, 
castelles, maners, landes, tenementes, fermes or other 
hereditamentes nor for any trespas or other intromittynge 
in the same, nor for anye by suretye by persone or per- 



16 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

sones to her or to her use — made by them before the 
sayde fyrst daie of May last passed, but shalbe therof 
agaynste the sayd Kynge and the sayde Elizabeth clerly 
discharged and acquyte forever." 1 

i In the above memorandum no statement is made regarding Jane 
Shore, though it may be that she had much to do with Perkin 
Warbeck. 



,B. THE HIDDEN KING 

THE personality, nature and life of Sebas- 
tian, King of Portugal, lent themselves to 
the strange structure of events which 
followed his strenuous and somewhat eccentric 
and stormy life. He was born in 1554, and was the 
son of Prince John and his wife Juana, daughter 
of the Emperor Charles V. He succeeded his 
grandfather, John III, at the age of three. His 
long minority aided the special development of his 
character. The preceptor appointed to rule his 
youth was a Jesuit, Luiz-Goncalvoz de Camara. 
Not unnaturally his teacher used his position to 
further the religious aims and intrigues of his 
strenuous Order. Sebastian was the kind of youth 
who is beloved by his female relatives — quite apart 
from his being a King; and naturally he was 
treated by the women in a manner to further his 
waywardness. When he was fourteen years old he 
was crowned. From thence on he insisted on 
having his way in everything, and grew into 
a young manhood which was of the type beloved 
of an adventurous people. He was thus described : 
"He was a headstrong violent nature, of reckless 
courage, of boundless ambition founded on a deep 

17 



18 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

religious feeling. At the time of his coronation 
he was called 'Another Alexander.' He loved 
all kinds of danger, and found a keen pleasure in 
going out in a tempest in a small boat and in 
actually running under the guns of his own forts 
where his commands were stringent that any vessel 
coming in shore should be fired on. He was a nota- 
ble horseman and could steer his charger efficiently 
by the pressure of either knee — indeed he was of 
such muscular vigour that he could, by the mere 
stringency of the pressure of his knees, make a 
powerful horse tremble and sweat. He was a 
great swordsman, and quite fearless. 'What is 
fear?' he used to say. Restless by nature he 
hardly knew what it was to be tired." 

And yet this young man — warrior as he was, had 
a feminine cast of face; his features were symmet- 
rically formed with just sufficient droop in the 
lower lip to give the characteristic 'note' of Aus- 
trian physiognomy. His complexion was as fine 
and transparent as a girl's ; his eyes were clear and 
of blue; his hair of reddish gold. His height was 
medium, his figure fine; he was vigorous and 
active. He had an air of profound gravity and 
stern enthusiasm. Altogether he was, even with- 
out his Royal state, just such a young man as might 
stand for the idol of a young maid's dream. 

And yet he did not seem much of a lover. When, 
in 1576, he entered Spain to meet Philip II at 
Guadaloupe to ask the hand of the Infanta Isabella 



THE HIDDEN KING 19 

in marriage, he was described as "cold as a wooer 
as he was ardent as a warrior." His eyes were so 
set on ambition that mere woman's beauty did not 
seem to attract him. Events — even that event, 
the meeting — fostered his ambition. When he 
knelt to his host, the elder king kissed him and 
addressed him as "Your Majesty" the first time 
the great title had been used to a Portuguese king. 
The effect must have come but little later for at 
that meeting he kissed the hand of the old warrior, 
the Duke of Alva, and uncovered to him. His 
underlying pride, however, was shewn at the close 
of that very meeting, for he claimed equal rights 
in formality with the Spanish king; and there was 
a danger that the visit of ceremony might end 
worse than it began. Neither king would enter 
the carriage in which they were to proceed together, 
until the host suggested that as there were two 
doors they should enter at the same time. 

Sebastian's religious fervour and military ambi- 
tion became one when he conceived the idea of 
renewing the Crusades ; he would recover the Holy 
Land from the dominion of the Paynim and be- 
come himself master of Morocco in the doing of it. 
With the latter object in his immediate view, he 
made in 1574, against the wise counsels of Queen 
Catherine, a sortie de reconnaissance of the Afri- 
can coast; but without any result — except the 
fixing of his resolution to proceed. In 1578 his 
scheme was complete. He would listen to no 



20 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

warning or counsel on the subject even from the 
Pope, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, or the Duke 
of Nassau. He seemed to foresee the realization 
of his dreams, and would forego nothing. He 
gathered an army of some 18,000 men (of which 
less than 2,000 were horsemen) and about a dozen 
cannon. The preparation was made with great 
splendour — a sort of forerunner of the Great 
Armada. It seemed to be, as in the case of the 
projected invasion of England ten years later by 
Spain, a case of "counting the chickens before they 
were hatched." 

Some indication of the number of adventurers 
and camp followers accompanying the army is 
given by the fact that the 800 craft ordained for 
the invasion of Morocco carried in all some 24,000 
persons, inclusive of the fighting men. The para- 
phernalia and officials of victory comprised amongst 
many other luxuries: lists for jousts, a crown ready 
for the new King of Morocco to put on, and poets 
with completed poems celebrating victory. 

At this time Morocco was entering on the throes 
of civil war. Muley Abd-el-Mulek, the reigning 
Sultan, was opposed by his nephew, Mohammed, 
and to aid the latter, who promised to bring in 
400 horsemen, was the immediate object of Sebas- 
tian. But the fiery young King of Portugal had 
undertaken more than he was able to perform. 
Abd-el-Mulek opposed his 18,000 Portuguese with 
55,000 Moors, (of whom 36,000 were horsemen) 



THE HIDDEN KING 21 

and with three times his number of cannon. The 
young Crusader's generalship was distinctly de- 
fective; he was a fine fighting man, but a poor 
commander. Instead of attacking at once on his 
arrival and so putting the zeal of his own troops 
and the discouragement of the enemy to the best 
advantage, he wasted nearly a week in hunting par- 
ties and ineffectual manoeuvring. When finally 
issue was joined, Abd-el-Mulek, though he was 
actually dying, surrounded the Portuguese forces 
and cut them to pieces. Sebastian, though he 
fought like a lion, and had three horses killed under 
him, was hopelessly beaten. There was an at- 
tendant piece of the grimmest comedy on record. 
The Sultan died during the battle, but he was a 
stern old warrior, and as he fell back in his litter 
he put his finger on his lip to order with his last 
movement that his death should be kept secret for 
the time being. The officer beside him closed the 
curtains and went on with the fight, pretending to 
take orders from the dead man and to transmit 
them to the captains. 

The fate of Sebastian was sealed in that battle. 
Whether he lived or died, he disappeared on 5 
August, 1578. One story was that after the 
battle of Alca9er-el-Kebir, his body stripped and 
showing seven wounds was found in a heap of the 
slain; that it was taken to Fez and there buried; 
but was afterwards removed to Europe and found 
resting place in the Convent of Belen. Another 



22 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

story was that after a brilliant charge on his ene- 
mies he was taken in, but having been rescued by 
Lui de Brito he escaped unpursued. Certainly 
no one seemed to have seen the King killed, and it 
was strange that no part of his clothing or accoutre- 
ments was ever found. These were of great splen- 
dour, beauty and worth, and must have been easily 
traceable. There was a rumour that on the night 
following the battle some fugitives, amongst whom 
was one of commanding distinction, sought refuge 
at Arzilla. 

Alcacer-el-Kebir was known as the "Battle of 
the three Kings." All the principals engaged in 
it perished. Sebastian was killed or disappeared. 
Abd-el-Mulek died as we have seen, and Moham- 
med was drowned in trying to cross the river. 

The dubiety of Sebastian's death gave rise in 
after years to several impostures. 

The first began six years after Sebastian's suc- 
cessor — his uncle, Cardinal Henry — was placed on 
the throne. The impostor was known as the "King 
of Penamacor." The son of a potter at Alcobaca, 
he established himself at Albuquerque, within the 
Spanish borders, somewhat to the north of Badajos, 
and there gave himself out as "a survivor of the 
African Campaign." As usual the public went a 
little further and said openly that he was the miss- 
ing Don Sebastian. At first he denied the soft im- 
peachment, but later on the temptation became too 
great for him and he accepted it and set up in 



THE HIDDEN KING 23 

Penamacor, where he became known as the "King 
of Penamacor." He was arrested and paraded 
through Lisbon, bareheaded, as if to let the public 
see that he in no way resembled the personality of 
Sebastian. He was sent to the galleys for life. 
But he must have escaped, for later on he appeared 
in Paris as Silvio Pellico, Duke of Normandy, and 
was accepted as such in many of the salons in the 
exclusive Faubourg St. Germain. 

The second personator of Sebastian was one 
Matheus Alvares, who having failed to become a 
monk, a year later imitated the first impostor, and 
in 1585 set up a hermitage at Ericeira. He bore 
some resemblance to the late king in build, and in 
the strength of this he boldly gave himself out as 
"King Sebastian" and set out for Lisbon. But he 
was arrested by the way and entered as a prisoner. 
He was tried and executed with frightful acces- 
sories to the execution. 

The third artist in this imposture appeared in 
1594. He was a Spaniard from Madrigal in Old 
Castile — a cook, sixty years old (Sebastian would 
have been just forty if he had lived). When ar- 
rested he was given but short shrift and shared the 
same ghastly fate as his predecessor. 

The fourth, and last, imposture was more 
serious. This time the personator began in Venice 
in 1598, calling himself "Knight of the Cross." 

As twenty years had now elapsed since the dis- 
appearance of Sebastian, he would have changed 



24 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

much in appearance, so in one respect the person- 
ator had less to contend against. Moreover the 
scene of endeavour was this time laid in Venice, 
a place even more widely removed in the sixteenth 
century from Lisbon by circumstances than by 
geographical position. Again witnesses who could 
give testimony to the individuality of the missing 
King of twenty years ago were few and far be-> 
tween. But on the other hand the new impostor 
had new difficulties to contend against. Henry, 
the Cardinal, had only occupied the Portuguese 
throne two years, for in 1580 Philip II of Spain 
had united the two crowns, and had held the dual 
monarchy for eighteen years. He was a very dif- 
ferent antagonist from any one that might be of 
purely Portuguese origin. 

In the eyes of many of the people — like all the 
Latin races naturally superstitious — one circum- 
stance powerfully upheld the impostor's claim. So 
long ago as 1587, Don John de Castro had made a 
seemingly prophetic statement that Sebastian was 
alive and would manifest himself in due time. His 
utterance was, like most such prophecies of the kind, 
"conducive to its own fulfilment ;" there were many 
— and some of them powerful — who were willing at 
the start to back up any initiator of such a claim. 
In his time Sebastian had been used, so far as it 
was possible to use a man of his temperament and 
position, by the intriguers of the Catholic Church, 
and the present occasion lent itself to their still-ex- 



THE HIDDEN KING 25 

istent aims. Rome was very powerful four cen- 
turies ago, and its legions of adherents bound in 
many ties, were scattered throughout the known 
world. Be sure these could and would aid in any 
movement or intrigue which could be useful to the 
Church. 

"The Knight of the Cross" — who insinuated, 
though he did not state so, that he was a Royal per- 
son was arrested on the showing of the Spanish 
Ambassador. He was a born liar, with all the 
readiness which the carrying out of such an adven- 
ture as he had planned requires. Not only was he 
well posted in known facts, but he seemed to be 
actually proof against cross-examination. The 
story he told was that after the battle of Alcacer-el- 
Kebir he with some others, had sought temporary 
refuge in Arzilla and in trying to make his way 
from there to the East Indies, he had got to "Pres- 
ter John's" land — the semi-fabled Ethiopia of those 
days. From thence he had been turned back, and 
had, after many adventures and much wandering — 
in the course of which he had been bought and sold 
a dozen times or more, found his way, alone, to 
Venice. Amongst other statements he alleged that 
Sebastian's confessor had already recognised and 
acknowledged him; but he was doubtless ignorant, 
when he made the statement, that Padre Mauricio, 
Don Sebastian's confessor, fell with his king in 
1578. Two things, one, a positive inference and 
the other negative, told against him. He only 



26 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

knew of such matters as had been made public in 
depositions, and he did not know Portuguese. The 
result of his first trial was that he was sent to prison 
for two years. 

But those two years of prison improved his case 
immensely. In that time he learned the Portu- 
guese language and many facts of history. One 
of the first to believe — or to allege belief, in his 
story, Fray Estevan de Sampayo, a Dominican 
monk, was in 1599, sent by the Venetian authori- 
ties to Portugal to obtain an accredited description 
of the personal marks of King Sebastian. He re- 
turned within a year with a list of sixteen personal 
marks — attested by an Apostolic notary. Strange 
to say the prisoner exhibited every one of them — a 
complete agreement which in itself gave rise to the 
new suspicion that the list had been made out by, 
or on behalf of, the prisoner. The proof however 
was accepted — for the time; and he was released 
on the 28th of July, 1600 — but with the imperative, 
humiliating proviso that he was to quit Venice 
within four and twenty hours under penalty of be- 
ing sent to the galleys. A number of his sup- 
porters, who met him before he went, found that he 
had in reality no sort of resemblance to Sebastian. 
Don John de Castro, who was amongst them, said 
that a great change in Sebastian seemed to have 
taken place. (He had prophesied and adhered 
to his prophecy. ) He now described him as a man 
of medium height and powerful frame, with hair 



THE HIDDEN KING 27 

and beard of black or dark brown, and said he had 
completely lost his beauty. "What has become of 
my fairness?" the swarthy ex-prisoner used to 
say. He had eyes of uncertain colour, not large but 
sparkling; high cheek bones; long nose; thin lips 
with the "Hapsburg droop" in the lower one. He 
was short from the waist up. ( Sebastian's doublet 
would fit no other person.) His right leg and arm 
were longer than the left, the legs being slightly 
bowed like Sebastian's. He had small feet with 
extraordinarily high insteps; and large hands. "In 
fine," Don John summed up illogically, "he is the 
self-same Sebastian — except for such differences 
as resulted from years and labours." Some other 
particulars he added which are in no way helpful to 
a conclusion. 

The Impostor told his friends that he had in 
1597, sent a messenger from Constantinople to 
Portugal — one Marco Tullio Catizzone — who had 
never returned. Thence he had travelled to Rome 
— where, when he was just on the eve of being pre- 
sented to the Holy Father, he was robbed of all he 
had; thence to Verona and so on to Venice. After 
his expulsion from Venice he seems to have found 
his way to Leghorn and Florence, and thence on to 
Naples, where he was handed over to the jurisdic- 
tion of the Spanish Viceroy, the Count of Lemos, 
who had visited him in prison, and who well remem- 
bered King Sebastian whom he had seen when in 
a diplomatic mission. The Viceroy came to the 



28 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

conclusion that he bore no likeness at all to Sebas- 
tian, that he was ignorant of all save the well known 
historical facts that had been published, and that his 
speech was of "corrupt Portuguese mingled with 
tell-tale phrases of Calabrian dialect." Thereupon 
he took active steps against him. One witness who 
was produced, recognized in him the real Marco 
Tullio Catizzone, and Count de Lemos sent for 
his wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law, all of 
whom he had deceived and deserted. His wife, 
Donna Paula of Messina, acknowledged him; and 
he confessed Ms crime. Condemned to the galleys 
for life, Marco Tullio, out of consideration of a 
possibility of an error of justice, was so far given 
indulgence by the authorities that he did not have to 
wear prison dress or labour at the oar. Many of 
his supporters, who still believed in him, tried to 
mitigate his lot and treated him as a companion; so 
that the hulk at San Lucar, at the mouth of the 
Guadalquiver became a minor centre of intrigue. 
But still he was not content, and adventuring 
further, he tried to get money from the wife of 
Medina-Sidonia then Governor of Andalusia. He 
was again arrested with some of his associates. In- 
criminating documents were found on him. He 
was racked and confessed all. And so in his real 
name and parentage, Marco Tullio, son of Ippolit 
Catizzone of Taverna, and of Petronia Cortes his 
wife, and husband of Paula Gallardetta was exe- 
cuted. He had, though of liberal education, never 



THE HIDDEN KING 29 

worked at any occupation or calling; but he had 
previously to his great fraud, personated other men 
— amongst them Don Diego of Arragon. On 23rd 
of September, 1603, he was dragged on a hurdle to 
the Square of San Lucar; his right hand was cut 
off and he was hanged. Five of his companions, 
including two priests, shared his fate. 

But in a way he and the previous impostors had 
a sort of posthumous revenge, for Sebastian had 
now entered into the region of Romantic Belief. 
He was, like King Arthur, the ideal and the heart 
of a great myth. He became "The Hidden King" 
who would some day return to aid his nation in the 
hour of peril — the destined Ruler of the Fifth 
Monarchy, the founder of an universal Empire of 
Peace. 

A hundred years ago, the custom in British thea- 
tres was to finish the evening's performance with 
a farce. On this occasion the tragedy had been 
finished two centuries before the "comic relief" 
came. The occasion was in the French occupation 
of Portugal in 1807. The strange belief in the 
Hidden King broke out afresh. A rigorous cen- 
sorship of Sebastianist literature was without avail 
— even though its disseminators were condemned 
by the still-existing Inquisition. The old prophecy 
was renewed, with a local and personal application 
— Napoleon was to be destroyed in the Holy Week 
of 1808, by the waiting Sebastian, whose approach 
from his mysterious retreat was to be veiled with a 



30 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

thick fog. There were to be new portents ; the sky 
was to be emblazoned with a cross of the Order of 
Aviz, and on March 19th a full moon was to occur 
during the last quarter. All these things were 
foretold in an egg, afterwards sent by Junot to the 
National Museum. The general attitude of the 
French people towards the subject was illustrated 
by a remark in an ironical manner of one writer: 
"what can be looked for from a people, one half of 
whom await the Messiah, the other half Don Sebas- 
tian?" The authority on the subject of King Se- 
bastian, M. d'Antas, relates that as late as 1838, 
after the crushing of a Sebastianist insurrection in 
Brazil certain still believing Sebastianists were to 
be seen along the coast peering through the fog for 
the sails of the mythical ship which was to bring to 
them the Hidden King who was then to reveal him- 
self. 



C. "STEFAN MALI" 

THE FALSE CZAR 

STEFAN MALI (Stephen the Little) was 
an impostor who passed himself off in 
Montenegro as the Czar Peter III of Rus- 
sia, who was supposed to have been murdered in 
1762. He appeared in the Bocche di Cattaro in 
1767. No one seemed to know him or to doubt 
him ; indeed after he had put forth his story he 
did not escape identification. One witness who had 
accompanied a state visit to Russia averred that 
he recognized the features of the Czar whom he had 
seen in St. Petersburg. Like all adventurers 
Stefan Mali had good personal resources. An 
adventurer, and especially an adventurer who is 
also an impostor, must be an opportunist; and an 
opportunist must be able to move in any direction at 
any time; therefore he must be always ready for 
any emergency. The time, the place, and the cir- 
cumstances largely favoured the impostor in this 
case. It is perhaps but fair to credit him with 
foreknowledge, intention, and understanding of 
all that he did. In after years he justified himself 
in this respect and showed distinctly that he was 
a man of brains and capable of using them. He 

31 



32 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

was no doubt not only able to sustain at the start 
his alleged personality, but also to act under new 
conditions and in new circumstances as they de- 
veloped themselves, as a man of Czar Peter's char- 
acter and acquired knowledge might have done. 
Cesare Augusto Levi, who is the authority on this 
subject, says, in his work "Venezia e il Montene- 
gro": "He was of fine presence and well propor- 
tioned form and of noble ways. He was so elo- 
quent that he exercised with mere words a power 
not only on the multitude but also on the higher 
classes. . . . He must certainly have been 
in St. Petersburg before he scaled Montene- 
gro; and have known the true Peter III, for he 
imitated his voice and his gestures — to the illusion- 
ment of the Montenegrins. There is no certainty 
of such a thing, but he must, in the belief of the 
Vladika Sava have been a descendant of Stefano 
Czernovich who reigned after Giorgio IV." 

At that time Montenegro was ruled by Vladika 
Sava, who having spent some twenty years in mo- 
nastic life, was unfitted for the government of a 
turbulent nation always harassed by the Turks and 
always engaged in a struggle for bare existence. 
The people of such a nation naturally wanted a 
strong ruler, and as they were discontented under 
the sway of Sava the recognition of Stefan Mali 
was almost a foregone conclusion. He told a won- 
derful story of his adventures since his reported 
death — a story naturally interesting to such an ad- 



-STEFAN MALI" 33 

venturous people ; and as he stated his intention of 
never returning to Russia, they were glad to add 
such a new ally to their righting force for the main- 
tenance of their independence. As the will of the 
people was for the new-comer, the Vladika readily 
consented to confine himself to his spiritual func- 
tions and to allow Stefan to govern. The Vladika 
of Montenegro held a strange office — one which 
combined the functions of priest and generalissimo 
— so that the new division of the labour of ruling 
was rather welcome than otherwise to the people 
of a nation where no man ever goes without arms. 
Stephen — as he now was — governed well. He de- 
voted himself fearlessly to the punishment of ill- 
doing, and early in his reign had men shot for theft. 
He established Courts of Justice and tried to 
further means of communication throughout the 
little kingdom, which, is, after all, little more than 
a bare rock. He even so far impinged on Sava's 
sacred office as to prohibit Sunday labour. In 
fact his labours so much improved the outlook of 
the Montenegrins that the result brought trouble 
on himself as well as on the nation in general. 
Hitherto, whatever foreign nations may have be- 
lieved as to the authenticity of Stephen's claim, 
they had deliberately closed their eyes to his new 
existence, so long as under his rule the little nation 
of Montenegro did not become a more dangerous 
enemy to all or any .of them. 

But the nations interested grew anxious at the 



34 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

forward movement in Montenegro. Venice, then 
the possessor of Dalmatia, was alarmed, and 
Turkey regarded the new ruler as an indirect agent 
of Russia. Together they declared war. This 
was the moment when Fate declared that the Pre- 
tender should show his latent weakness of charac- 
ter. The Montenegrins are naturally so brave 
that cowardice is unknown amongst them; but 
Stephen did not dare to face the Turkish army, 
which attacked Montenegro on all the land sides. 
But the Montenegrins fought on till a chance came 
to them after many months of waiting in the shape 
of a fearful storm which desolated their enemies' 
Camp. By a sudden swoop on the camp they 
seized much ammunition of which they were sadly 
in want and by the aid of which they gained de- 
livery from their foes. The Russian government 
seemed then to wake up to the importance of the 
situation, and, after sending the Montenegrins 
much help in the shape of war material, asked them 
to join again in the war against the Turks. The 
Empress Catherine in addition to this request, 
sent another letter denouncing Stephen as an im- 
postor. He admitted the charge and was put in 
prison. But in the impending war a strong man 
was wanted at the head of affairs; and Sava, who 
now had the mundane side of his dual office once 
more thrust again upon him, was a weak one. 
The situation was saved by Prince George Dol- 
gourouki, the representative of the Empress Cath- 



"STEFAN MALI" 35 

erine, who, with statesmanlike acumen, saw that 
such a desperate need required an exceptional 
remedy. He recognized the false Czar as Regent. 
Stephen Mali, thus restored to power under such 
powerful auspices, once more governed Monte- 
negro until 1774, when he was murdered by the 
Greek player Casamugna — by order, it is said, of 
the Pasha of Scutari, Kara Mahmound. 

By the irony of Fate this was exactly the way in 
which the real Czar, whose personality he had 
assumed, had died some dozen years before. 

This impostor was perhaps the only one who in 
the history of nations prospered finally in his 
fraud. But as may be seen he was possessed of 
higher gifts than most of his kind ; he was equal to 
the emergencies which presented themselves — and 
circumstances favoured him, rarely. 



D. THE FALSE DAUPHINS 

ON 21 January, 1793, Louis XVI of France 
was beheaded in the Place de la Revolu- 
tion, formerly Place de Louis Quinze. 
From the moment his head fell, his only son the 
Dauphin became by all constitutional usage, his 
successor, Louis XVII. True the child-king was 
in the hands of his enemies; but what mattered 
that to believers in the "Divine Right." What 
mattered it either that he was at that moment in 
the prison of the Temple, where he had languished 
since August 13, 1792, already consecrated to de- 
struction, in one form or another. He was then 
under eight years of age, and so an easy victim. 
His gaoler, one Simon, had already been instructed 
to bring him up as a "sansculotte." In the 
furtherance of this dreadful ordinance he was 
taught to drink and swear and to take a part in 
ithe unrighteous songs and ceremonies of the Reign 
of Terror. Under such conditions no one can be 
sorry that death came to his relief. This was in 
June, 1795 — he being then in his eleventh year. 
In the stress and turmoil of such an overwhelming 
cataclysm as the Revolution, but little notice was 
taken of a death which, under other circumstances, 

36 



THE FALSE DAUPHINS 37 

would undoubtedly have been of international in- 
terest if not of importance. But by this time the 
death of any one, so long as it was by violence, 
was too common a matter to cause concern to others. 
The Terror had practically glutted the lust for 
blood. Under such conditions but little weight 
was placed on the accuracy of records; and to this 
day there survive practical inconveniences and dif- 
ficulties in daily life from the then disruption of 
ordered ways. The origin of such frauds or means 
of fraud as are now before us is in uncertainty. 
Shakespeare says: 

"How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds 
Makes ill deeds done." 

The true or natural criminal is essentially an op- 
portunist. The intention of crime, even if it be 
only a desire to follow the line of least resistance, 
is a permanent factor in such lives, but the direc- 
tion, the mechanism, and the scope of the crime are 
largely the result of the possibilities which open and 
develop themselves from a fore-ordered condition 
of things. 

Here then was the opening which presented it- 
self at the end of the eighteenth century. France 
was in a state of social chaos. The fountains of 
the deep were stirred, and no human intelligence 
could do more than guess at what might result from 
any individual effort of self-advancement. The 
public conscience was debauched, and for all prac- 



38 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

tical purposes the end justified the means. It was 
an age of desperate adventure, of reckless enter- 
prise, of unscrupulous methods. The Royalty of 
France was overthrown — in abeyance till at least 
such a time as some Colossus of brains or energy, or 
good fortune, should set it up again. The hopes 
of a great nation of return to a settled order of 
things through constitutional and historical chan- 
nels were centred in the succession to the Crown. 
And through the violence of the upheaval any is- 
sue was possible. The state of affairs just before 
the death of Louis XVII gave a chance of success 
to any desperate fraud. The old King was dead, 
the new King was a child and in the hands of his 
bitterest enemies. Even if anyone had cared to 
vindicate his rights there seemed at present no way 
of accomplishing this object. To any reckless and 
unscrupulous adventurer here was an unique 
chance. Here was a kingship going: a dar- 
ing hand might grasp the crown which rested in so 
perilous a manner on the head of a baby. More- 
over the events of the last fifteen years of the 
century had not only begotten daring which de- 
pended on promptness, but had taught and fostered 
desperation. It is a wonder to us who look back on 
that time through the safety-giving mist of a cen- 
tury, not that there was any attempt to get a crown, 
if only by theft, but that there were not a hundred 
attempts made for each one that history has re- 
corded. 



THE FALSE DAUPHINS 39 

As a matter of fact, there were seven attempts 
made to personate the dead Dauphin, son of Louis 
XVI, that "son of St. Louis," who, in obedience 
to Abbe Edgworth's direction to "ascend to 
heaven," went somewhere where it is difficult — 
or perhaps inexpedient — to follow him. 

The first pretender appears to have been one 
Jean Marie Hervagault, son of a tailor. His 
qualification for the pretence appears to 
have been but a slender one, that of having been 
born in 1781, only about three years before the 
Dauphin. This, taken by itself, would seem to be 
but a poor equipment for such a crime ; but in com- 
parison with some of the later claimants it was not 
without reason of approximate possibility as far 
as date was concerned. It was not this crim- 
inal's first attempt at imposture, for he had 
already pretended to be a son of la Vaucelle of 
Longueville and of the Due d'Ursef. Having 
been arrested at Hottot as a vagabond, he was taken 
to Cherburg, where he was claimed by his father. 
When claiming to be, like the old man in Mark 
Twain's inimitable Huckleberry Finn, "the late 
Dauphin," his story was that he had as a child been 
carried from the prison of the Temple in a basket 
of linen. In 1799 he was imprisoned at Chalons- 
sur-Marne for a month. He was, however, so far 
successful in his imposture as Louis XVII, that 
after some adventures he actually achieved a good 
following — chiefly of the landed interest and clerics. 



40 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

He was condemned to two years' imprisonment at 
Vitry, and afterwards to a term of twice that dura- 
tion, during which he died, in 1812. 

The second and third aspirants to the honour of 
the vacant crown were inconspicuous persons pos- 
sessing neither personal qualification nor apparent 
claim of any sort except that of a desire for acquisi- 
tion. One was Persat, an old soldier; the other, 
Fontolive, a bricklayer. The pretence of either of 
these men would have been entirely ridiculous but 
for its entirely tragic consequences. There is 
short shrift for the unsuccessful impostor of royalty 
— even in an age of fluctuation between rebellion 
and anarchy. 

The fourth pretender was at least a better work- 
man at crime than his predecessors. This was 
Mathurin Brunneau — ostensibly a shoemaker but 
in reality a vagabond peasant from Vezins, in the 
department of Maine-et-Loire. He was a born 
criminal as was shown by his early record. When 
only eleven years of age he claimed to be the son of 
the lord of the village, Baron de Vezins. He ob- 
tained the sympathy of the Countess de Turpin de 
Crisse, who seemed to have compassion for the boy. 
Even when the fraud of his parentage was found 
out she took him back into her household — but 
amongst the servants. After this his life became 
one of adventure. When he was fifteen he made a 
tour through France. In 1803 he was put in the 
House of Correction at St. Denis. In 1805 he 



THE FALSE DAUPHINS 41 

enlisted as a gunner. In 1815 he re-appeared with 
an American passport bearing the name of Charles 
de Navarre. His more ambitious attempt at per- 
sonation in 1817, was not in the long run success- 
ful. He claimed his rights, as "Dauphin" Bour- 
bon under Louis XVIII, was arrested at St. Malo, 
and confined at Bicetre. He got round him a 
gang of persons of evil life, as shown by their vari- 
ous records. One was a false priest, another a 
prisoner for embezzlement, another an ex-bailiff 
who was also a forger, another a deserter; with the 
usual criminal concomitant of women, dishonoured 
clergy and such like. At Rouen he was sentenced 
to pay a fine of three thousand francs in addition 
to imprisonment for seven years. He died in 
prison. 

The imposture regarding the Dauphin was like 
a torch-race — so soon as the lighted torch fell from 
the hand of one runner it was lifted by him who 
followed. Brunneau, having disappeared into the 
prison at Rouen, was succeeded by Henri Herbert 
who made a dramatic appearance in Austria in 
1818. At the Court in Mantone, the scene of his 
appearance, he gave the name of Louis Charles de 
Bourbon, Due de Normandie. His account of 
himself, given in his book published in 1831, and 
republished — with enlargements, by Chevalier del 
Corso in 1850, is without any respect at all for the 
credulity of his readers. 

The story tells how an alleged doctor, one an- 



42 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

swering to the not common name of Jenais-Ojar- 
dias, some time before the death of the Dauphin 
had had made a toy horse of sufficient size to con- 
tain the baby king, the opening to the interior of 
which was hidden by the saddle-cloth. The wife 
of the gaoler Simon, helped in the plot, the carrying 
out of which was attempted early in 1794. An- 
other child about the Dauphin's size, dying or 
marked for death by fatal disease, was drugged 
and hidden in the interior. When the toy horse 
was placed in the Dauphin's cell the children were 
exchanged, the little king having also been 
drugged for the purpose. It would almost seem 
that the narrator here either lost his head or was 
seized with a violent cacoethes scrihendi, for he most 
unnecessarily again lugs in the episode adapted 
from Trojan history. The worthy doctor of the 
double name had another horse manufactured, this 
time of life size. Into the alleged entrails of this 
animal, which was harnessed with three real horses 
as one of a team of four, the Dauphin, once 
more drugged, was concealed. He was borne to 
refuge in Belgium, where he was placed under 
the protection of the Prince de Conde. By this 
protector he was, according to his story, sent to 
General Kleber who took him to Egypt as his 
nephew under the name of Monsieur Louis. After 
the battle of Marengo in 1800, he returned 
to France, where he confided his secret to Lucien 
Bonaparte and to Fouche (the Minister of Police), 



THE FALSE DAUPHINS 43 

who got him introduced to the Empress Josephine, 
who recognised him by a scar over his right eye. 
In 1804 (still according to his story), he embarked 
for America and got away to the banks of the 
Amazon, where amid the burning deserts (as he 
put it) he had adventures capable of consuming 
lesser romancists with envy. Some of these ad- 
ventures were amongst a tribe called "the Mame- 
lucks" — which name was at least reminiscent of his 
alleged Egyptian experiences. From the burning 
deserts on the banks of the Amazon he found his 
way to Brazil, where a certain "Don Juan," late of 
Portugal and at that time Regent of Brazil, gave 
him asylum. 

Leaving the hospitable home of Don Juan, he 
returned to Paris in 1815. Here Conde introduced 
him to the Duchesse d'Angouleme (his sister!) 
and according to his own naive statement "the 
Princess was greatly surprised," as indeed she 
might well have been — quite as much as the witch of 
Endor was by the appearance of Samuel. Having 
been repulsed by his (alleged) sister, the alleged 
king made a little excursion, embracing in its 
erratic course Rhodes, England, Africa, Egypt, 
Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy. When in Austria 
he met Silvio Pellico in prison. Having spent 
some years himself in prison in the same countiy, 
he went to Switzerland. Leaving Geneva in 
1826, he entered France, under the name of Her- 
bert. He was in Paris the following year under 



44 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

the name of "Colonel Gustave," and forthwith re- 
vived his fraud of being "the late Dauphin." In 
1828, he appealed to the Chamber of Peers. To 
this appeal he appears to have received no direct 
reply; but apropos of it, Baron Mounier made a 
proposition to the Chamber that in future no such 
application should be received unless properly 
signed and attested and presented by a member of 
the Chamber. He gathered round him some dupes 
who believed in him. To these he told a number of 
strange lies based on some form of perverted truth, 
but always taking care that those of whom he spoke 
were already dead. Amongst them was the wife 
of Simon, who had died in 1819. Desault, the 
surgeon, who had medical care of Louis XVII, 
and who died in 1795, the ex-Empress Josephine, 
who died in 1814, General Pichegru, who died in 
1804, and the Due de Bourbon (Prince de 
Conde) who died in 1818. In the course of his 
citation of the above names, he plays havoc with 
generally accepted history — Desault according to 
him did not die naturally but was poisoned. Jose- 
phine died simply because she knew the secret of 
the young King's escape. Pichegru died from a 
similar cause and not by suicide. Fualdes was as- 
sassinated, but it was because he knew the fatal 
secret. With regard to one of his dead witnesses 
whose name was Thomas-Ignace-Martin de Gal- 
lardon, there is a rigmarole which would not be 
accepted in the nursery of an idiot asylum. There 



THE FALSE DAUPHINS 45 

is a mixture of Pagan mythology and Christian 
hagiology which would have been condemned by 
Ananias himself. In one passage he talks of see- 
ing suddenly before him — he could not tell (natur- 
ally enough) whence he came — a sort of angel who 
had wings, a long coat and a high hat. This super- 
natural person ordered the narrator to tell the King 
that he was in danger, and the only way to avoid 
it was to have a good police and to keep the Sab- 
bath. Having given his message the visitant rose 
in the air and disappeared. Later on the sug- 
gested angel told him to communicate with the Due 
Decazes. The Duke naturally, and wisely enough, 
handed the credulous peasant over to the care of a 
doctor. Martin himself died, presumably by as- 
sassination, in 1834. 

The Revolution of 1830 awoke the pretensions of 
Herbert, who now appeared as the Baron de Riche- 
mont, and wrote to the Duchesse d'Angouleme, 
his (supposed) sister, putting on her the blame of 
all his troubles. But the consequences of this effort 
were disastrous to him. He was arrested in 
August, 1833. After hearing many witnesses the 
Court condemned him to imprisonment for twelve 
years. He was arraigned under the name of 
"Ethelbert Louis-Hector-Alfred," calling himself 
the "Baron de Richmont." He escaped from 
Clairvaux, whither he had been transferred from 
Saint-Pelagie, in 1835. In 1843 and 1846 he pub- 
lished his memoirs — enlarged but omitting some 



46 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

of his earlier assertions, which had been disproved. 
He returned to France after the amnesty of 1840. 
In 1848 he appealed — unheeded — to the National 
Assembly. He died in 1855 at Gleyze. 

The sixth "Late Dauphin" was a Polish Jew 
called Naundorf — an impudent impostor not even 
seeming suitably prepared by time for the part 
which he had thus voluntarily undertaken, having 
been born in 1775, and thus having been as old at 
the birth of the Dauphin as the latter was when he 
died. This individual had appeared in Berlin in 
1810, and was married in Spandau eight years 
later. He had been punished for incendiarism in 
1824, and later got three years' imprisonment at 
Brandenburg for coining. He may be considered 
as a fairly good all-round — if unsuccessful — crim- 
inal. In England he was imprisoned for debt. 
He died in Delft in 1845. 

The last attempt at impersonating Louis XVII, 
the seventh, afforded what might in theatrical par- 
lance be called the "comic relief" of the whole series, 
both as regards means and results. This time the 
claimant to the Kingship of France was none other 
than a half-bred Iroquois, one called Eleazar, who 
appeared to be the ninth son of Thomas Williams, 
otherwise Thorakwaneken, and an Indian woman, 
Mary Ann Konwatewentala. This lady, who 
spoke only Iroquois, said at the opportune time she 
was not the mother of Lazar (Iroquois for Elea- 
zar). She made her mark as she could not write. 



THE FALSE DAUPHINS 47 

Eleazar had been almost an idiot till the age of 
thirteen; but, being struck on the head by a stone, 
recovered his memory and intelligence. He said 
he remembered sitting on the knees of a beautiful 
lady who wore a rich dress with a train. He also 
remembered seeing in his childhood a terrible per- 
son; shewn the picture of Simon he recognised him 
with terror. He learned English but imperfectly, 
became a Protestant and a missionary and married. 
His profile was something like that of the typical 
Bourbon. In 1841, the Prince de Joinville, see- 
ing him on his travels in the United States, told 
him (according to Eleazar's account) that he was 
the son of a king, and got him to sign and seal a 
parchment, already prepared, the same being a 
solemn abdication of the Crown of France in favour 
of Louis Philippe, made by Charles Louis, son of 
Louis XVI, also styled Louis XVII King of 
France and Navarre. The seal used was 
the seal of France, the one used by the old Mon- 
archy. The "poor Indian with untutored 
mind" made with charming diffidence the saving 
clause regarding the seal, — "if I am not mis- 
taken." Of course there was in the abdication a 
clause regarding the payment of a sum of money 
"which would enable me to live in great luxury in 
this country or in France as I might choose." The 
Reverend Eleazar, despite his natural disadvan- 
tages and difficulties, was more fortunate than his 
fellow claimants inasmuch as the time of his im- 



48 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

posture was more propitious. Louis Philippe, 
who was always anxious to lessen the danger to his 
tottering throne, made a settlement on him from 
his Civil List, and the ''subsequent proceedings in- 
terested him no more." 

Altogether the Louis XVII impostures extended 
over a period of some sixty years, beginning with 
Hervagault's pretence soon after the death of the 
Dauphin, and closing at Gleyze with the death of 
Henri Herbert, the alleged Baron de Richmont 
who appeared as the alleged Due de Normandie. 



E. PRINCESS OLIVE 

THE story of Mrs. Olive Serres, as nature 
made it, was one thing; it was quite an- 
other as she made it for herself. The re- 
sult, before the story was completely told, was a 
third; and, compared with the other, one of tran- 
scendent importance. Altogether her efforts, 
whatsoever they were and crowned never so ef- 
fectively, showed a triumph in its way of the 
thaumaturgic art of lying; but like all structures 
built on sand it collapsed eventually. In the plain 
version — nature's — the facts were simply as fol- 
lows. She, and a brother of no importance, were 
the children of a house painter living in Warwick, 
one Robert Wilmot, and of Anna Maria his wife. 
Having been born in 1772 she was under age 
when in 1791 she was married, the ceremony there- 
fore requiring licence supported by bond and affi- 
davit. Her husband was John Thomas Serres 
who ten years later was appointed marine painter 
to King George III. Mr. and Mrs. Serres were 
separated in 1804 after the birth of two daughters, 
the elder of whom, born in 1797, became in 1822 
the wife of Antony Thomas Ryves a portrait 
painter — whom she divorced in 1847. Mrs. A. T. 

49 



50 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Ryves twelve years later filed a petition praying 
that the marriage of her mother, made in 1791, 
might be declared valid and she herself the legiti- 
mate issue of that marriage. The case was heard 
in 1861, Mrs. Ryves conducting it in person. 
Having produced sufficient evidence of the mar- 
riage and the birth, and there being no opposition, 
the Court almost as a matter of course pronounced 
the decree asked for. In this case no complications 
in the way of birth or marriage of Mrs. Serres 
were touched on. 

Robert Wilmot, the house-painter, had an elder 
brother James who became a Fellow of Trinity 
College, Oxford, and went into the Church, taking 
his degree of Doctor of Divinity. Through his 
College he was presented in 1781 to the living of 
Barton-on-the-heath, Warwickshire. The Stat- 
utes of his College contained a prohibition against 
marriage whilst a Fellow. James Wilmot D. D. 
died in 1807 leaving his property between the two 
children of Robert, after life-use by his brother. 
James and Robert Wilmot had a sister Olive, who 
was born in 1728 and married in 1754 to William 
Payne with issue one daughter, Olivia, born in 
1759. Robert Wilmot died in 1812. 

Out of these rough materials Mrs. Olive Serres 
set herself in due course to construct and carry out, 
as time and opportunity allowed, and as occasions 
presented themselves and developed, a fraudulent 
romance in real life and action. She was, however, 




OLIVIA SERRES 



PRINCESS OLIVE 51 

a very clever woman and in certain ways — as was 
afterwards proved by her literary and artistic work 
— well dowered by nature for the task — crooked 
though it was — which she set for herself. Her 
ability was shown not only by what she could do 
and did at this time of her life, but by the manner 
in which she developed her natural gifts as time 
went on. In the sum of her working life, in which 
the perspective of days becomes merged in that of 
years, she touched on many subjects, not always of 
an ordinary kind, which shewed often that she was 
of conspicuous ability, having become accomplished 
in several branches of art. She was a painter of 
sufficient merit to have exhibited her work in the 
Royal Academy in 1794 and to be appointed land- 
scape-painter to the Prince of Wales in 1806. She 
was a novelist, a press writer, an occasional poet 
and in many ways of a ready pen. She was skilled 
in some forms of occultism, and could cast horo- 
scopes ; she wrote, in addition to a pamphlet on the 
same subject, a book on the writings of Junius, 
claiming to have discovered the identity of the 
author — none other than James Wilmot D. D. 
She wrote learnedly on disguised handwriting. In 
fact she touched on the many phases of literary 
effort which come within the scope of those who 
live by the work of their brains. Perhaps, indeed, 
it was her facility as a writer that helped to lead 
her astray; for in her practical draughtsmanship 
and in her brain teeming with romantic ideas she 



52 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

found a means of availing herself of opportunities 
suggested by her reckless ambition. Doubtless the 
cramped and unpoetic life of her humble condition 
in the house-painter's home in Warwick made her 
fret and chafe under its natural restraint. But 
when she saw her way to an effective scheme of en- 
larging her self-importance she acted with extraor- 
dinary daring and resource. As is usual with such 
natures, when moral restraints have been aban- 
doned, the pendulum swung to its opposite. As 
she had been lowly she determined to be proud ; and 
having fixed on her objective began to elaborate a 
consistent scheme, utilising the facts of her own 
surroundings as the foundation of her imposture. 
She probably realised early that there must be a 
base somewhere, and so proceeded to manufacture 
or arrange for herself a new identity into which 
the demonstrable facts of her actual life could be 
wrought. At the same time she manifestly real- 
ised that in a similar way fact and intention must 
be interwoven throughout the whole of her con- 
templated creation. Accordingly she created for 
herself a new milieu which she supported by forged 
documents of so clever a conceit and such excellent 
workmanship, that they misled all who investigated 
them, until they came within the purview of the 
great lawyers of the day whose knowledge, logical 
power, skill and determination were arrayed 
against her. By a sort of intellectual metabolism 
she changed the identities and conditions of her 



PRINCESS OLIVE 53 

own relations whom I have mentioned, always tak- 
ing care that her story held together in essential 
possibilities, and making use of the abnormalities 
of those whose prototypes she introduced into fic- 
tional life. 

The changes made in her world of new condi- 
tions were mainly as follows: Her uncle, the 
Reverend James, who as a man of learning and 
dignity was accustomed to high-class society, and 
as a preacher of eminence occasionally in touch with 
Crown and Court, became her father; and she her- 
self the child of a secret marriage with a great lady 
whose personal rank and condition would reflect 
importance on her daughter. But proof, or alleged 
proof, of some kind would be necessary and there 
were too many persons at present living whose 
testimony would be available for her undoing. So 
her uncle James shifted his place and became her 
grandfather. To this the circumstances of his 
earlier life gave credibility in two ways; firstly be- 
cause they allowed of his having made a secret 
marriage, since he was forbidden to marry by the 
statutes of his college, and secondly because they 
gave a reasonable excuse for concealing his mar- 
riage and the birth of a child, publicity regarding 
which would have cost him his livelihood. 

At this point the story began to grow logically, 
and the whole scheme to expand cohesively. Her 
genius as a writer of fiction was being proved ; and 
with the strengthening of the intellectual nature 



54 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

came the atrophy of the moral. She began to look 
higher; and the seeds of imagination took root in 
her vanity till the madness latent in her nature 
turned wishes into beliefs and beliefs into facts. 
As she was imagining on her own behoof, why not 
imagine beneficially? This all took time, so that 
when she was well prepared for her venture things 
had moved on in the nation and the world as well 
as in her fictitious romance. Manifestly she could 
not make a start on her venture until the possibility 
vanished of witnesses from the inner circle of her 
own family being brought against her; so that she 
could not safely begin machinations for some time. 
She determined however to be ready when occasion 
should serve. In the meantime she had to lead two 
lives. Outwardly she was Olive Serres, daughter 
of Robert Wilmot born in 1772 and married in 
1791, and mother of two daughters. Inwardly 
she was the same woman with the same birth, mar- 
riage and motherhood, but of different descent be- 
ing (imaginatively) grand-daughter of her (real) 
uncle the Rev. James Wilmot D. D. The gaps in 
the imaginary descent having been thus filled up as 
made and provided in her own mind, she felt more 
safe. Her uncle — so ran her fiction — had early 
in his college life met and become friends with 
Count Stanislaus Poniatowski who later became by 
election King of Poland. Count Poniatowski had 
a sister — whom the ingenious Olive dubbed "Prin- 
cess of Poland" — who became the wife of her uncle 









PRINCESS OLIVE 55 

(now her grandfather) James. To them was born, 
in 1750, a daughter Olive, the marriage being kept 
secret for family reasons, and the child for the 
same reason being passed off as the offspring of 
Robert the housepainter. This child Olive, accord- 
ing to the fiction, met His Royal Highness Henry 
Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, brother of the 
King, George III. They fell in love with each 
other and were privately married — by the Rev. 
James Wilmot D. D.— on 4 March 1*767. They 
had issue one daughter, Olive, born at Warwick 3 
April 1772. After living with her for four years 
the Duke of Cumberland deserted his wife, who 
was then pregnant, and in 1771 married — biga- 
mously, it was alleged — Lady Anne Horton, sister 
of Colonel Luttrell, daughter of Lord Irnliam, and 
widow of Andrew Horton of Catton, Derbyshire. 
The (alleged) Royal Duchess died in France in 
1774, and the Duke in 1790. 

Thus fact and fiction were arrayed together in a 
very cumiing way. The birth of Olive Wilmot 
(afterwards Serres) in 1772 was proved by a gen- 
uine registry. Likewise that of her daughter Mrs. 
Ryves. For all the rest the certificates were 
forged. Moreover there w T as proof of another 
Olive Wilmot whose existence, supported by gen- 
uine registration, might avert suspicion; since it 
would be difficult to prove after a lapse of time that 
the Olive Wilmot born at Warwick in 1772 daugh- 
ter of Robert (the house-painter), was not the 



56 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

granddaughter of James (the Doctor of Divinity). 
In case of necessity the real date (1759) of the 
birth of Olive Wilmot sister of the Rev. James 
could easily be altered to the fictitious date of the 
birth of "Princess" Olive born 1750. 

It was only in 1817 that Mrs. Serres began to 
take active measures for carrying her imposture 
into action ; and in the process she made some tenta- 
tive efforts which afterwards made difficulty for 
her. At first she sent out a story, through a 
memorial to George III, that she was daughter of 
the Duke of Cumberland by Mrs. Payne, wife of 
Captain Payne and sister of James Wilmot D. D. 
This she amended later in the same year by alleg- 
ing that she was a natural daughter of the Duke 
by the sister of Doctor Wilmot, whom he had se- 
duced under promise of marriage. It was not till 
after the deaths of George III and the Duke of 
Kent in 1820, that the story took its third and final 
form. 

It should be noticed that care was taken not to 
clash with laws already in existence or to run 
counter to generally received facts. In 1772 was 
passed the Royal Marriage Act (12 George III 
Cap. 11) which nullified any marriage contracted 
with anyone in the succession to the Crown to which 
the Monarch had not given his sanction. There- 
fore Mrs. Serres had fixed the (alleged) marriage 
of (the alleged) Olive Wilmot with the Duke of 
Cumberland as in 1767 — five years earlier — so that 



PRINCESS OLIVE 57 

the Act could not be brought forward as a bar to 
its validity. Up to 1772 such marriages could take 
place legally. Indeed there was actually a case in 
existence — the Duke of Gloucester (another 
brother of the King) having married the dowager 
Countess of Waldegrave. It was ef common re- 
pute that this marriage was the motive of the 
King's resolve to have the Royal Marriage Act 
added to the Statute book. At the main trial it 
was alleged by Counsel, in making the petitioner's 
claim, that the King (George III) was aware of 
the Duke of Cumberland's marriage with Olive 
Wilmot, although it was not known to the public, 
and that when he heard of his marriage with Lady 
Anne Horton he was very angry and would not al- 
low them to come to Court. 

The various allegations of Mrs. Serres as to her 
mother's marriage were not treated seriously for a 
long time but they were so persisted in that it be- 
came necessary to have some denial in evidence. 
Accordingly a law-case was entered. One which 
became a cause celebre. It began in 1866 — just 
about a hundred years from the time of the alleged 
marriage. With such a long gap the difficulties 
of disproving Mrs. Serres' allegations were much 
increased. But there was no help for it; reasons 
of State forbade the acceptance or even the doubt 
of such a claim. The really important point was 
that if by any chance the claimant should win, the 
Succession would be endangered. 



58 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

The presiding judge was the Lord Chief Justice, 
Lord Cockburn. With him sat Lord Chief Baron 
Pollock and the Judge Ordinary Sir James Wilde. 
There was a special jury. The case took the form 
of one in the English Probate Court made under 
the "Legitimacy Declaration Act." In this case, 
Mrs. Ryves, daughter of Mrs. Serres, was the pe- 
titioner. Associated with her in the claim was her 
son, who, however, is of no interest in the matter 
and need not be considered. The petition stated 
that Mrs. Ryves was the legitimate daughter of one 
John Thomas Serres and Olive his wife, the said 
Olive being, whilst living, a natural-born subject 
and the legitimate daughter of Henry Frederick, 
Duke of Cumberland and Oiive Wilmot, his wife. 
That the said Olive Wilmot, born in 1750, was law- 
fully married to His Royal Highness Henry Fred- 
erick, Duke of Cumberland, fourth son of Fred- 
erick Prince of Wales (thus being grandson of 
George II and brother of King George III), on 
4 March 1767, at the house of Thomas, Lord 
Archer, in Grosvenor Square, London, the mar- 
riage being performed by the Rev. James Wilmot 
D. D., father of the said Olive Wilmot. That a 
child, Olive, was born to them on 3 April 1772, who 
in 1791 was married to John Thomas Serres. And 
so on in accordance with the (alleged) facts above 
given. 

The strange position was that even if the pe- 



PRINCESS OLIVE 59 

titioner should win her main case she would prove 
her own illegitimacy. For granting that the al- 
leged Olive Serres should have been legally mar- 
ried to the Duke of Cumberland, the Royal Mar- 
riage Act, passed five years later, forbade the 
union of the child of such a marriage, except with 
the sanction of the reigning monarch. 

In the making of the claim of Mrs. Ryves a 
grave matter appeared — one which rendered it ab- 
solutely necessary that the case should be heard in 
the most formal and adequate way and settled once 
for all. The matter was one affecting the legality 
of the marriage of George III, and so touching 
the legitimacy of his son afterwards George IV, his 
son afterwards William IV and his son the Duke 
of Kent, father of Queen Victoria — and so debar- 
ring them and all their descendants from the Crown 
of England. The points of contact were in docu- 
ments insidiously though not overtly produced and 
the preparation of which showed much constructive 
skill in the world of fiction. Amongst the many 
documents put in evidence by the Counsel for Mrs. 
Ryves were two certificates of the (alleged) mar- 
riage between Olive Wilmot and the Duke of Cum- 
berland. On the back of each of these alleged cer- 
tificates was written what purported to be a certifi- 
cate of the marriage of George III to Hannah 
Lightfoot performed in 1759 by J. Wilmot. The 
wording of the documents varied slightly. 



60 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

It was thus that the claim of Mrs. Ryves and her 
son became linked up with the present and future 
destinies of England. These alleged documents 
too, brought the Attorney General upon the scene. 
There were two reasons for this. Firstly the action 
had to be taken against the Crown in the matter 
of form ; secondly in such a case with the possibility 
of such vast issues it was absolutely necessary that 
every position should be carefully guarded, every 
allegation jealously examined. In each case the 
Attorney General was the proper official to act. 

The Case of the Petitioners was prepared with 
extraordinary care. There were amongst the doc- 
uments produced, numbering over seventy, some 
containing amongst them forty-three signatures of 
Dr. Wilmot, sixteen of Lord Chatham, twelve of 
Mr. Dunning (afterwards the 1st Baron Ash- 
burton), twelve of George III, thirty-two of Lord 
Warwick and eighteen of H.R.H., the Duke of 
Kent, the father of Queen Victoria. Their coun- 
sel stated that although these documents had been 
repeatedly brought to the notice of the successive 
Ministers of the Crown, it had never been sug- 
gested until that day that they were forgeries. 
This latter statement was traversed in Court by the 
Lord Chief Baron, who called attention to a debate 
on the subject in the House of Commons in which 
they were denounced as forgeries. 

In addition to those documents already quoted 
were the following certificates : 



PRINCESS OLIVE 61 

"The marriage of these parties was this 
day duly solemnized at Kew Chapel, ac- 
cording to the rites and ceremonies of the 
Church of England, by myself. 

"J. Wilmot." 
"George P." 
"Hannah." 
Witness to this marriage 
"W. Pitt." 
"Anne Taylor." 

May 27, 1759. 



April 17, 1759 
"This is to Certify that the marriage o 
these parties (George, Prince of Wales, 
to Hannah Lightfoot) was duly solem- 
nized this day, according to the rites and 
ceremonies of the Church of England, at 
their residence at Peckham, by myself. 

"J. Wilmot." 
"George Guelph." 
"Hannah Lightfoot." 
Witness to the marriage of these par- 
ties,— 

"William Pitt." 
"Anne Taylor." 

"I hereby Certify that George, Prince 
of Wales, married Hannah Wheeler alias 
Lightfoot, April 17, 1759, but from find- 



62 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

ing the latter to be her right name I 
solemnized the union of the said parties a 
second time May the 27th, 1759, as the 
Certificate affixed to this paper will con- 
firm. 

"J. Wilmot. 

Witness (Torn) 



The case for the Crown was strongly supported. 
Not only did the Attorney-General, Sir Roundell 
Palmer (afterwards Lord Chancellor and First 
Earl of Selborne) appear himself, but he was sup- 
ported by the Solicitor-General, the Queen's Ad- 
vocate, Mr. Hannen and Mr. R. Bourke. The At- 
torney-General made the defence himself. At the 
outset it was difficult to know where to begin, for 
everywhere undoubted and unchallenged facts were 
interwoven with the structure of the case ; and of all 
the weaknesses and foibles of the important persons 
mentioned, full advantage was taken. The mar- 
riage of the Duke of Gloucester to Lady Walde- 
grave had made him unpopular in every way, and 
he was at the time a persona ingrata at Court. 
There had been rumours of scandal about the King 
(when Prince of Wales) and the "Fair Quaker," 
Hannah Lightfoot. The anonymity of the author 
of the celebrated "Letters of Junius," which at- 
tacked the King so unmercifully, lent plausibility 
to any story which might account for it. The case 
of Mrs. Ryves, tried in 1861, in which her own 



PRINCESS OLIVE 63 

legitimacy had been proved and in which indis- 
putable documents had been used, was taken as a 
proof of her bona fides. 

Mrs. Ryves herself was in the box for nearly the 
whole of three days, during which she bore herself 
firmly, refusing even to sit down when the presid- 
ing judge courteously extended that privilege to 
her. She was then, by her own statement, over 
seventy years of age. In the course of her evi- 
dence a Memorial to George IV was produced, 
written by her mother, Mrs. Serres, in which the 
word offspring was spelled "orf spring"; in com- 
menting on which the Attorney-General produced 
a congratulatory Ode to the Prince Regent on his 
birthday in 1812, by the same author, in which oc- 
curred the line : 

"Hail valued heir orfspring of Heaven's smile." 
Similar eccentric orthography was found in other 
autograph papers of Mrs. Serres. 

The Attorney-General, in opposing the claim, 
alleged that the whole story of the Duke of Cum- 
berland's marriage to Olive Wilmot was a concoc- 
tion from beginning to end, and said that the mere 
statement of the Petitioner's case was sufficient to 
stamp its true character. That its folly and ab- 
surdity were equal to its audacity; in every stage 
it exposed itself to conviction by the simplest tests. 
He added that the Petitioner might have dwelt so 
long upon documents produced and fabricated by 
others, that, with her memory impaired by old age, 



64 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

the principle of veracity might have been poisoned, 
and the offices of imagination and memory con- 
founded to such an extent that she really believed 
that things had been done and said in her presence 
which were in fact entirely imaginary. No part 
of her story was corroborated by a single authentic 
document, or by a single extrinsic fact. The 
forgery, falsehood and fraud of the case were 
proved in many ways. The explanations were as 
false and feeble as the story itself. "I cannot of 
course," he said, "lay bare the whole history of the 
concoction of these extraordinary documents, but 
there are circumstances which indicate that they 
were concocted by Mrs. Serres herself." 

Having commented on some other matters 
spoken of, but regarding which no evidence was ad- 
duced, he proceeded to speak of the alleged wife 
of Joseph Wilmot D. D., the Polish Princess, sis- 
ter of Count Poniatowski, afterwards elected King 
of Poland (1764), who was the mother of his 
charming daughter, Olive. "The truth is," said 
Sir Roundell, "that both the Polish Princess and 
the charming daughter were pure myths; no such 
persons ever existed — they were as entirely crea- 
tures of the imagination as Shakespeare's Ferdi- 
nand and Miranda." 

As to the documents produced by the Petitioners 
he remarked : 

"What sort of documents were those which were produced? 
The internal evidence proved that they were the most ridicu- 



PRINCESS OLIVE 65 

lous, absurd, preposterous series of forgeries that the per- 
verted ingenuity of man ever invented . . . they were all 
written on little scraps and slips of paper, such as no human 
being would ever have used for the purpose of recording 
transactions of this kind, and it would be proved that in every 
one of these pieces of paper the watermark of date was want- 
ing." 

This was but a new variant of the remark 
made by the Lord Chief Justice, just after the put- 
ting-in of the alleged marriage Certificate of the 
Prince of Wales and Hannah Lightf oot : 

"The Court is, as I understand, asked solemnly to declare, 
on the strength of two certificates, coming I know not whence, 
written on two scraps of paper, that the marriage, the only 
marriage of George III which the world believes to have 
taken place, between His Majesty and Queen Charlotte, was 
an invalid marriage, and consequently that all the Sovereigns 
who have sat on the throne since his death, including Her 
present Majesty, were not entitled to sit on the throne. That 
is the conclusion which the Court is asked to come to upon 
these two rubbishy pieces of paper, one signed 'George P.,' 
and the other 'George Guelph.' I believe them to be gross 
and rank forgeries. The Court has no difficulty in coming to 
the conclusion, even assuming that the signatures had that 
character of genuineness which they have not, that what is 
asserted in these documents has not the slightest foundation 
in fact." 

With this view the Lord Chief Baron and the 
Judge-Ordinary entirely concurred, the former ad- 
ding : 

the declarations of Hannah Lightfoot, if there 
ever was such a person, cannot be received in evidence on the 



66 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

faith of these documents . . . the only issues for the 
jury are the issues in the cause and this is not an issue in 
the cause, but an incidental issue. ... I think that these 
documents, which the Lord Chief Justice has treated with all 
the respect which properly belongs to them, are not genuine." 

Before the Attorney General had finished the 
statement of his case, he was interrupted by the 
foreman of the jury, who said that the jury were 
unanimously of opinion that there was no necessity 
to hear any further evidence as they were convinced 
that the signatures of the documents were not gen- 
uine. On this the Lord Chief Justice said : 

"You share the opinion which my learned brothers and I 
have entertained for a long time; that every one of the docu- 
ments is spurious." 

As the Counsel for the Petitioners had "felt it his 
duty to make some observations to the jury before 
they delivered their verdict," and had made them, 
the Lord Chief Justice summed up. Towards the 
conclusion of his summing-up he said, in speaking 
of the various conflicting stories put forth by Mrs. 
Serres: 

"In each of the claims which she made at different times, 
she appealed to documents in her possession by which they 
were supported. What was the irresistible inference? Why, 
that documents were from time to time prepared to meet the 
form which her claims from time to time assumed." 

The jury, without hesitation, found that they 
were not satisfied "that Olive Serres, the mother of 



PRINCESS OLIVE 67 

Mrs. Ryves, was the legitimate daughter of Henry 
Frederick Duke of Cumberland and Olive his wife ; 
and they were not satisfied that Henry Frederick, 
Duke of Cumberland, was lawfully married to 
Olive Wilmot on the 4th of March 1767 . . " 
The case of Mrs. Serres is an instance of how a 
person, otherwise comparatively harmless but af- 
flicted with vanity and egotism, may be led away 
into evil courses, from which, had she realised their 
full iniquity, she might have shrunk. The only 
thing outside the case we have been considering, 
was that she separated from her husband ; which in- 
deed was an affliction rather than a crime. She had 
been married for thirteen years and had borne two 
children, but so far as we know no impropriety was 
ever alleged against her. One of her daughters re- 
mained her constant companion till her twenty- 
second year and through her long life held her and 
her memory in filial devotion and respect. The 
forethought, labour and invention which she de- 
voted to the fraud, if properly and honestly used, 
might have won for her a noteworthy place in the 
history of her time. But as it was, she frittered 
away in criminal work her good opportunities and 
great talents, and ended her life within the rules 
of the King's Bench. 



II. PRACTITIONERS OF MAGIC 



PARACELSUS 

I FEEL that I ought to begin this record with 
an apology to the manes of a great and fear- 
less scholar, as earnest as he was honest, as 
open-minded as he was great-hearted. I do so 
because I wish to do what an unimportant man can 
after the lapse of centuries, to help a younger gen- 
eration to understand what such a man as I write 
of can do and did under circumstances not possi- 
ble in times of greater enlightenment. The lesson 
which the story can tell to thinking youth cannot 
be told in vain. The greatest asset which worth 
has in this world is the irony of time. Contem- 
poraneous opinion, though often correct, is gener- 
ally on the meagre side of appreciation — prac- 
tically always so with regard to anything new. 
Such must in any case be encountered in matters of 
the sixteenth century which being on the further 
side of an age of discovery and reform had hard- 
ened almost to the stage of ossification the beliefs 
and methods of the outgoing order of things. 
Prejudice — especially when it is based on science 
and religion — dies hard: the very spirit whence 
originates a stage of progress or reform, makes its 
inherited follower tenacious of its traditions how- 

71 



72 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

ever short they may be. This is why any who, in 
this later and more open minded age, may investi- 
gate the intellectual discoveries of the past, owe 
a special debt in the way of justice to the memories 
of those to whom such fresh light is due. The 
name and story of the individual known as Para- 
celsus — scholar, scientist, open minded thinker and 
teacher, earnest investigator and searcher for ele- 
mental truths — is a case in point. Anyone who 
contents himself with accepting the judgment of 
four centuries passed upon the great Swiss thinker, 
who had rendered famous in history his place of 
birth, his canton and his nation, would inevitably 
come to the conclusion that he was merely a char- 
latan a little more clever than others of his kind; 
an acceptor of all manner of eccentric beliefs (in- 
cluding the efficacy of spirits and demons in path- 
ological cases), a drunkard, a wastrel, an evil liver, 
a practiser of necromancy, an astrologer, a ma- 
gician, an atheist, an alchemist — indeed an "ist" of 
all defamatory kinds within the terminology of the 
sixteenth century and of all disputatious church- 
men and scientists who have not agreed with his 
theories and conclusions ever since. 

Let us begin with the facts of his life. His 
name was Theophrastus Bombast von Hohenheim, 
and he was the son of a doctor living in Einsiedeln 
in the canton of Schwyz, named Wilhelm Bom- 
bast von Hohenheim, natural son of a Grand Mas- 
ter of the Teutonic Order. He was born in 1490. 



PARACELSUS 73 

It was not uncommon for a man of that age who 
was striving to make a name for himself, to assume 
some nom de plume or de guerre; and with such a 
family record as his own, it was no wonder that 
on the threshold of his life the young Theophras- 
tus did so. In the light of his later achievements, 
we can well imagine that he had some definite pur- 
pose in mind, or at least some guiding principle of 
suggestiveness, in choosing such a compound word 
from the Greek as Paracelsus (which is derived 
from "para," meaning before, in the sense of su- 
perior to, and Celsus, the name of an Epicurean 
philosopher of the second century.) Celsus ap- 
pears to have had views of great enlightenment ac- 
cording to the thought of his own time. Unhap- 
pily only fragments of his work remain, but as he 
was a follower of Epicurus after an interval of be- 
tween four and five centuries, it is possible to get 
some idea of his main propositions. Like Epi- 
curus he stood for nature. He did not believe in 
fatalism, but he did in a supreme power. He was 
a Platonist and held that there was no truth which 
was against nature. It is easy to see from his life 
and work that Theophrastus Bombast von Hohen- 
heim shared his views. His intellectual attitude 
was that of a true scientist — denying nothing prima 
facie but investigating all. 

"There lives more faith in honest doubt, 
Believe me, than in half the creeds." 



74 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

His father moved in 1502 to Villach in Carin- 
thia, where he practised medicine till his death in 
1534. Theophrastus was a precocious boy; after 
youthful study with his father, he entered the 
University of Basel when he was about sixteen, 
after which he prosecuted chemical researches un- 
der the learned Trithemius Bishop of Sponheim 
who had written on the subject of the Great elixir 
— the common subject of the scientists of that day, 
— and at Wurzburg. From thence he proceeded 
to the great mines in the Tyrol, then belonging to 
the Fugger family. Here he studied geology and 
its kindred branches of learning — especially those 
dealing with effects and so far as possible with 
causes — metallurgy, mineral waters, and the dis- 
eases of and accidents to mines and miners. The 
theory of knowledge which he deduced from these 
studies was that we must learn nature from nature. 

In 1527, he returned to Basel, where he was ap- 
pointed town physician. It was a characteristic 
of his independence and of his mind, method and 
design, that he lectured in the language of the place, 
German, foregoing the Latin tongue, usual up to 
that time for such teaching. He did not shrink 
from a bold criticism of the medical ideas and 
methods then current. The effect of this inde- 
pendence and teaching was that for a couple of 
years his reputation and his practice increased 
wonderfully. But the time thus passed allowed 
his enemies not only to see the danger for them that 



PARACELSUS 75 

lay ahead, but to take such action as they could to 
obviate it. Reactionary forces are generally — if 
not always — self -protective, without regard to the 
right or wrong of the matter, and Paracelsus be- 
gan to find that the self-interest and ignorance of 
the many were too strong for him, and that their 
unscrupulous attacks began to injure his work 
seriously. He was called conjurer, necromancer, 
and many such terms of obloquy. Then what we 
may call his "professional" enemies felt themselves 
strong enough to join in the attack. As he had 
kept a careful eye on the purity of medicines in use, 
the apothecaries, who, in those days worked in a 
smaller field than now, and who found their 
commerce more productive through guile than 
excellence, became almost declared opponents. 
Eventually he had to leave Basel. He went to 
Esslingen, from which however he had to retire at 
no distant period from sheer want. 

Then began a period of wandering which really 
lasted for the last dozen years of his life. This 
time was mainly one of learning in many ways of 
many things. The ground he covered must have 
been immense, for he visited Colmar, Nurnberg, 
Appengall, Zurich, Augsburg, Middelheim, and 
travelled in Prussia, Austria, Hungary, Egypt, 
Turkey, Russia, Tartary, Italy, the Low Countries 
and Denmark. In Germany and Hungary he had 
a bad time, being driven to supply even the bare 
necessaries of life by odd — any — means, even to 



76 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

availing himself of the credulity of others — cast- 
ing nativities, telling fortunes, prescribing remedies 
for animals of the farm such as cows and pigs, and 
recovering stolen property; such a life indeed as 
was the lot of a mediaeval "tramp." On the other 
hand, as a contra he did worthy work as a military 
surgeon in Italy, the Low Countries and Denmark. 
When he got tired of his wandering life, he settled 
down in Salsburg, in 1541, under the care and pro- 
tection of the Archbishop Ernst. But he did not 
long survive the prospect of rest; he died later in 
the same year. The cause of his death is not 
known with any certainty, but we can guess that 
he had clamorous enemies as well as strong uphold- 
ing from the conflicting causes given. Some said 
that he died from the effects of a protracted de- 
bauch, others that he was murdered by physicians 
and apothecaries, or their agents, who had thrown 
him over a cliff. In proof of this story it was said 
that the surgeons had found a flaw or fracture in 
his skull which must have been produced during 
life. 

He was buried in the churchyard of Saint Se- 
bastian; but two centuries later, 1752, his bones 
were moved to the porch of the church, and a mon- 
ument erected over them. 

His first book was printed in Augsburg in 1526. 
His real monument was the collection of his com- 
plete writings so far as was possible, the long 
work of Johann Huser made in 1589-91. This 



PARACELSUS 77 

great work was published in German, from printed 
copy supplemented by such manuscript as could be 
discovered. Then and ever since there has been a 
perpetual rain of statements against him and his 
beliefs. Most of them are too silly for words ; but 
it is a little disconcerting to find one writer of some 
distinction repeating so late as 1856 all the malig- 
nant twaddle of three centuries, saying amongst 
other things that he believed in the transmutation 
of metals and the possibility of an elixir vital, that 
he boasted of having spirits at his command, one 
of which he kept imprisoned in the hilt of his sword 
and another in a jewel; that he could make any one 
live forever; that he was proud to be called a 
magician ; and had boasted of having a regular cor- 
respondence with Galen in Hell. We read in 
sensational journals and magazines of to-day about 
certain living persons having — or saying that they 
have — communion in the shape of "interviews" 
with the dead; but this is too busy an age for un- 
necessary contradictions and so such assertions are 
allowed to pass. The same indifference may now 
and again have been exhibited in the case of men 
like Paracelsus. 

Some things said of him may be accepted as be- 
ing partially time, for his was an age of mysticism, 
occultism, astrology, and all manner of strange and 
weird beliefs. For instance it is alleged that he 
held that life is an emanation from the stars; that 
the sun governed the heart, the moon the brain, 



78 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Jupiter the liver, Saturn the gall, Mercury the 
lungs, Mars the bile, Venus the loins; that in each 
stomach is a demon, that the belly is the grand 
laboratory where all the ingredients are appor- 
tioned and mixed; and that gold could cure ossi- 
fication of the heart. 

Is it any wonder that when in this age after cen- 
turies of progress such absurd things are current 
Paracelsus is shewn in contemporary and later por- 
traits with a jewel in his hand transcribed Azoth — 
the name given to his familiar daemon. 

Those who repeat ad nauseam the absurd stories 
of his alchemy generally omit to mention his gen- 
uine discoveries and to tell of the wide scope of his 
teaching. That he used mercury and opium for 
healing purposes at a time when they were con- 
demned ; that he did all he could to stop the practice 
of administering the vile electuaries of the medi- 
aeval pharmacopoeia; that he was one of the first 
to use laudanum; that he perpetually held — to his 
own detriment — that medical science should not be 
secret; that he blamed strongly the fashion of his 
time of accounting for natural phenomena by the 
intervention of spirits or occult forces ; that he dep- 
recated astrology ; that he insisted on the proper in- 
vestigation of the properties of drugs and that they 
should be used more simply and in smaller doses. 
To these benefits and reforms his enemies answered 
that he had made a pact with the devil. For re- 
ward of his labours, his genius, his fearless strug- 



PARACELSUS 79 

gle for human good he had — with the exception of 
a few spells of prosperity — only penury, want, ma- 
licious ill-fame and ceaseless attacks by the pro- 
fessors of religion and science. He was an original 
investigator of open mind, of great ability and ap- 
plication, and absolutely fearless. He was cen- 
turies ahead of his time. We can all feel grateful 
to that French writer who said: 

"Tels sont les services eminents que Paracelse a rendu a 
l'humanite souffrante, pour laquelle il montra toujours le 
devouement le plus desinteresse; s'il en fut mal recom- 
pense pendant sa vie que sa memoire au moins soit honoree." 



CAGLIOSTRO 

THE individual known to history as Comte 
Cagliostro, or more familiarly as Caglios- 
tro, was of the family name of Balsamo and 
was received into the Church under the saintly 
name of Joseph. The familiarity of history is an 
appanage of greatness in some form. Greatness 
is in no sense a quality of worth or morality. It 
simply points to publicity, and if unsuccessful, to 
infamy. Joseph Balsamo was of poor parentage 
in the town of Palermo, Sicily, and was born in 
1743. In his youth he did not exhibit any talent 
whatever, such volcanic forces as he had being en- 
tirely used in wickedness — base, purposeless, sor- 
did wickedness, from which devolved no benefit 
to any one — even to the the criminal instigator. In 
order to achieve greatness, or publicity, in any 
form, some remarkable quality is necessary; Joseph 
Balsamo's claim was based not on isolated qualities 
but on a union of many. In fact he appears to 
have had every necessary ingredient for this kind 
of success — except one, courage. In his case how- 
ever, the lacking ingredient in the preparation of 
his hell-broth was supplied by luck; though such 
luck had to be paid for at the devil's usual price — 

80 




CAGLIOSTRO 



CAGLIOSTRO 81 

failure at the last. His biographers put his lead- 
ing characteristics in rather a negative than a posi- 
tive way — "indolent and unruly"; but as time went 
on the evil became more marked — even ferae 
naturae, poisonous growths, and miasmatic con- 
ditions have to manifest themselves or to cease to 
prevail. In the interval between young boyhood 
and coming manhood, Balsamo's nature — such as it 
was — began to develop, unscrupulousness working 
on an imaginative basis being always a leading 
characteristic. The unruly boy shewed powers of 
becoming an unruly man, fear being the only re- 
straining force ; and indolence giving way to wick- 
edness. When he was about fifteen he was sent to 
a monastery to learn chemistry and pharmacy. 
The boy who had manifested a tendency to "grow 
downwards" found the beginning of a kind of suc- 
cess in these studies in which, to the surprise of all, 
he exhibited a form of aptitude. Chemistry has 
certain charms to a mind like his, for in its work- 
ing are many strange surprises and lurid effects 
not unattended with entrancing fears. These he 
used before long to his own pleasure in the concern 
of others. When he was expelled from the re- 
ligious house he led a dissolute and criminal life in 
Palermo. Amongst other wickednesses he robbed 
his uncle and forged his will. Here too, he com- 
mitted a crime, not devoid of a certain humorous 
aspect, but which had a reflex action on Ms own 
life. Under promise of revealing a hidden treas- 



82 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

ure, he persuaded a goldworker, one Morano, to 
give him custody of a quantity of his wares. It 
was what, in criminal slang is called "a put-up job," 
and was worked by a gang of young thieves with 
Balsamo at their head. Having filled the soft 
head of the foolish goldsmith with ideas to suit his 
purpose, Joseph brought him on a treasure hunt 
into a cave where he was shortly surrounded by the 
gang dressed as fiends, who, in the victim's paral- 
ysis of fear, robbed him at their ease of some sixty 
ounces of gold. Morano, as might have been ex- 
pected, was not satisfied with the proceedings and 
vowed vengeance which he tried to effect later. 
Balsamo's pusillanimity worked hand in hand with 
Morano's vindictiveness, to the effect that the cul- 
prit incontinently absconded from his native town. 
He conferred the benefit of his presence on Mes- 
sina where he was naturally attracted to a noted 
alchemist called Althotas, to whom he became a 
sort of disciple. Althotas was a man of great 
learning, according to the measure of that time and 
his own occupation. He was skilled in Eastern 
tongues and an adept occultist. It was said that 
he had actually visited Mecca and Medina in the 
disguise of an Oriental prince. Having attached 
himself to Althotas, Cagliostro went with him to 
Malta where he persuaded the Grand Master of 
the Knights to supply them with a laboratory for 
the manufacture of gold, and also with letters of 



CAGLIOSTRO 83 

introduction which he afterwards used with much 
benefit to himself. 

From Malta he went to Rome where he employed 
himself in forging engravings. Like other crim- 
inals, great and small, Comte Alessandro Caglios- 
tro — as he had now become by his own creation of 
nobility — had a faculty of working hard and intel- 
ligently so long as the end he aimed at was to be 
accomplished by crooked means. Work in the ordi- 
nary ways of honesty he loathed and shunned ; but 
work as a help to his nefarious schemes seemed to 
be a jojr to him. Then he set himself up as a won- 
der-worker, improving as he went on all the cus- 
toms and tricks of that calling. He sold an elixir 
which he said had all the potency usually attrib- 
uted to such compounds but with an added efficacy 
all its own. He pretended to be able to transmute 
metals and to make himself invisible ; indeed to per- 
form all the wonders of the alchemist, the "cheap 
jack," and the charlatan. At Rome he became 
acquainted with and married a very beautiful 
woman, Lorenza de Feliciani, daughter of a lace- 
maker, round whom later biographers weave ro- 
mances. According to contemporary accounts she 
seems to have been dowered with just such quali- 
ties as were useful in such a life as she had entered 
on. In addition to great and unusual beauty she 
was graceful, passionate, seductive, clever, plau- 
sible, soothing, and attractive in all ways dear and 



84 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

convincing to men. She must have had some win- 
ning charm which has lasted beyond her time, for 
a hundred years afterwards we find so level-headed 
a writer as Dr. Charles Mackay crediting her, quite 
unwarrantably with, amongst other good qualities, 
being a faithful wife. Her life certainly after her 
marriage was such that faithfulness in any form 
was one of the last things to expect in her. Her 
husband was nothing less than a swindler of a pro- 
tean kind. He had had a great number of aliases 
before he finally fixed on Comte de Cagliostro as 
a nomine de guerre. He called himself succes- 
sively Chevalier de Fischio, Marquis de Melina (or 
Melissa), Marquis de Pellegrini, Comte de Saint- 
German, Baron de Belmonte; together with such 
names as Fenix, Anna, Harat. He wrote a work 
somewhat of the nature of a novel called Le Grand 
Cophte — which he found useful later when he was 
pushing his scheme of a sort of new Freemasonry. 
After his marriage he visited several countries, 
Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Poland, Russia, Greece, 
Germany ; as well as such towns as Naples, Palermo, 
Rhodes, Strasbourg, Paris, London, Lisbon, 
Vienna, Venice, Madrid, Brussels — in fact any 
place where many fools were crowded into a small 
space. In many of these he found use for the 
introductory letters of the Grand Master of the 
Knights of Malta, as well as those of other dupes 
from whom it was his habit to secure such letters 
before the inevitable crash came. Wherever he 



CAGLIOSTRO 85 

travelled he was accustomed to learn all he could 
of the manners, customs and facts of each place 
he was in, thus accumulating a vast stock of a cer- 
tain form of knowledge which he found most useful 
in his chosen occupation — deceit. With regard to 
the last he utilised every form of human credulity 
which came under his notice. The latter half of 
the eighteenth century was the very chosen time of 
strange beliefs. Occultism became a fashion, espe- 
cially amongst the richer classes, with the result that 
every form of swindle came to the fore. At this 
time Cagliostro, then nearing his fortieth year, be- 
gan to have a widespread reputation for marvellous 
cures. As mysticism in all sorts of forms had a 
vogue, he used all the tricks of the cult, gathering 
them from various countries, especially France and 
Germany, where the fashion was pronounced. For 
this trickery he used all his knowledge of the East 
and all the picturesque aids to credulity which he 
had picked up during his years of wandering; and 
for his "patter," such medical terminology as he 
had learned — he either became a doctor or invented 
a title for himself. This he interlarded with 
scraps of various forms of fraudulent occultism and 
all sorts of suggestive images of eastern quasi- 
religious profligacy. He took much of the imagery 
which he used in his rituals of fraud from records 
of ancient Egypt. This was a pretty safe ground 
for his purpose, for in his time the Egypt of the 
past was a sealed book. It was only in 1799 that 



86 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

the Rosetta stone was discovered, and more than 
ten years from then before Dr. Young was able 
to translate its three inscriptions — Hieroglyphic 
Demotic and Greek — whence Hieroglyphic knowl- 
edge had its source. Omne ignotum pro magnifico 
might well serve as a motto for all occultism, true or 
false. Cagliostro, whose business it was to deceive 
and mislead, understood this and took care that in 
his cabalistic forms Egyptian signs were largely 
mixed with the pentagon, the signs of the Zodiac, 
and other mysterious symbols in common use. His 
object was primarily to catch the eye and so arrest 
the intelligence of any whom he wished to impress. 
For this purpose he went about gorgeously dressed 
and with impressive appointments. In Germany 
for instance he always drove in a carriage with four 
horses with courier and equerries in striking liveries. 
Happily there is extant a pen picture of him by 
Comte de Beugnot who met him in Paris at the 
house of the Comtesse de la Motte : 

"of medium height and fairly fat, of olive colour, with short 
neck and round face, big protruberant eyes, a snub nose with 
open nostrils." 

This gives of him anything but an attractive pic- 
ture; but yet M. de Beugnot says: "he made an 
impression on women whenever he came into a 
room." Perhaps his clothing helped, for it was not 
of a commonplace kind. De Beugnot who was 
manifestly a careful and intelligent observer again 
comes to our aid with his pen: 



CAGLIOSTRO 87 

"He wore a coiffure new in France; his hair parted in sev- 
eral little cadenottes (queues or tresses) uniting at the back 
of the head in the form known as a 'catogan' (hair clubbed 
or bunched). A dress, French fashion, of iron grey, laced 
with gold, scarlet waistcoat broidered with bold point de spain, 
red breeches, a basket-hilted sword and a hat with white 
plumes I" 

Aided by these adjuncts he was a great success 
in Paris whither he returned in 1785. As an im- 
postor he knew his business and played "the game" 
well. When he was at work he brought to bear 
the influence of all his "properties," amongst them a 
tablecloth embroidered with cabalistic signs in 
scarlet and the symbols of the Rosy Cross of high 
degree; the same mysterious emblems marked the 
globe without which no wizard's atelier is complete. 

Here too were various little Egyptian figures — 
"ushabtui" he would doubtless have called them had 
the word been in use in his day. From these he 
kept his dupes at a distance, guarding carefully 
against any discovery. He evidently did not fear 
to hurt the religious susceptibilities of any of his 
votaries, for not only were the crucifix and other 
emblems of the kind placed amongst the curios 
of his ritual, but he made his invocation in the form 
of a religious ceremony, going down on his knees 
and in all ways cultivating the emotions of those 
round him. He was aided by a young woman 
whom he described as pure as an angel and of great 
sensibility. The said young person kept her blue 



88 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

eyes fixed on a globe full of water. Then he pro- 
ceeded to expound the Great Secret which he told 
his hearers had been the same since the beginning of 
things and whose mystery had been guarded by Tem- 
plars of the Rosy Cross, by Magicians, by Egyp- 
tians and the like. He had claimed, as the Comte 
Saint-German said, that he had already existed for 
many centuries; that he was a contemporary of 
Christ; and that he had predicted His crucifixion 
by the Jews. As statements of this kind were made 
mainly for the purpose of selling the elixir which 
he peddled, it may easily be imagined that he did 
not shrink from lying or blasphemy when such 
seemed to suit his purpose. Daring and reckless- 
ness in his statements seemed to further his business 
success, so prophecy — or rather boastings of proph- 
ecy after the event — became part of the great fraud. 
Amongst other things he said that he had predicted 
the taking of the Bastille. Such things shed a little 
light on the methods of such impostors, and help 
to lay bare the roots or principles through which 
they flourish. 

After his Parisian success he made a prolonged 
tour in France. In la Vendee he boasted of some 
fresh miracle — of his own doing — on each day ; and 
at Lyons the boasting was repeated. Of course he 
occasionally had bad times, for now and again even 
the demons on whose acquaintance and help he 
prided himself did not work. In London after 
1772, things had become so bad with him that he had 



CAGLIOSTRO 89 

to work as a house painter under his own name. 
Whatever may have been his skill in his art this 
was probably about the only honest work he ever 
did. He did not stick to it for long however, for 
four years afterwards he lost three thousand pounds 
by frauds of others by whom he was introduced to 
fictitious lords and ladies. Here too he underwent 
a term of imprisonment for debt. 

Naturally such an impostor found in Freema- 
sonry, which is a secret cult, a way of furthering 
his ends. With the aid of his wife, who all 
through their life together seems to have worked 
with him, he founded a new branch of freemasonry 
in which a good many rules of that wonderful 
organisation were set at defiance. As the purpose 
of the new cult was to defraud, its net was enlarged 
by taking women into the body. The name used 
for it was the Grand Egyptian Lodge — he being 
himself the head of it under the title of the Cophte 
and his wife the Grand Priestess. In the ritual 
were some appalling ceremonies, and as these made 
eventually for profitable publicity, the scheme was 
a great success — and the elixir sold well. This 
elixir was the backbone of his revenue ; and indeed 
it would have been well worthy of success if it had 
been all that he claimed for it. Dispensers of 
elixirs are not usually backward in proclaiming the 
virtues of their wares; but in his various settings 
forth Cagliostro went further than others. He 
claimed not only to restore youth and health and 



90 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

to make them perpetual, but to restore lost inno- 
cence and effect a whole moral regeneration. No 
wonder that he achieved success and that money 
rolled in! And no wonder that women, especially 
of the upper classes, followed him like a flock of 
sheep ! No wonder that a class rich, idle, pleasure- 
loving", and fond of tasting and testing new sensa- 
tions, found thrilling moments in the great impos- 
tor's melange of mystery, religion, fear, and hope ; 
of spirit-rapping and a sort of "black mass" in 
which Christianity and Paganism mingled freely, 
and where life and death, good and evil, whirled 
together in a maddening dance. 

It was not, however, through his alleged sorcery 
that Cagliostro crept into a place in history; but 
by the association of his name with a sordid crime 
which involved the names of some of the great 
ones of the earth. The story of the Queen's Neck- 
lace, though he was acquitted at the trial which 
concluded it, will be remembered when the vapour- 
ings of the unscrupulous quack who had escaped a 
thousand penalties justly earned, have been long 
forgotten. Such is the irony of history! The 
story of the necklace involved Marie Antoinette, 
Cardinal Prince de Rohan, Comte de la Motte — 
an officer of the private guard of "Monsieur" (the 
Comte d'Artois), his wife Jeanne de Valois, de- 
scended from Henry II through Saint-Remy, his 
natural son and Nicole de Savigny. Louis XV 
had ordered from MM. Boemer et Bassange, jew- 



CAGLIOSTRO 91 

ellers to the Court of France, a beautiful necklace 
of extraordinary value for his mistress Madame du 
Barry, but died before it was completed. The du 
Barry was exiled by his successor, so the necklace 
remained on the hands of its makers. It was, how- 
ever, of so great intrinsic value that they could not 
easily find a purchaser. They offered it to Marie 
Antoinette for one million eight hundred thousand 
livres; but the price was too high even for a queen, 
and the necklace remained on hand. So Boemer 
showed it to Madame de la Motte and offered to 
give a commission on the sale to whoever should 
find a buyer. She induced her husband, Comte de 
la Motte, to join with her in a plot to accomplish 
the sale. De la Motte was a friend of Cagliostro, 
and he too was brought in as he had influence with 
the Cardinal Prince de Rohan whom they looked on 
as a likely person to be of service. He had his own 
ambitions to acquire influence over the queen and 
use her for political purposes as Mazarin had used 
Anne of Austria. De Rohan was then a man of 
fifty — not considered much of an age in these days, 
but the Cardinal's life had not made for compara- 
tive longevity. He was in fact something of that 
class of fool which has no peer in folly — an old 
fool ; and Jeanne de la Motte fooled him to the top 
of his bent. She pretended to him that Marie An- 
toinette was especially friendly to her, and shewed 
him letters from the queen to herself all of which 
had been forged for the purpose. As at this time 



92 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Madame de la Motte had borrowed or otherwise 
obtained from the Cardinal a hundred and twenty 
thousand livres, she felt assured he could be used 
for the contemplated fraud. She probably had not 
ever even spoken to the queen but she was not 
scrupulous in such a small matter as one more un- 
truth. She finally persuaded him that Marie An- 
toinette wished to purchase the necklace through 
his agency, he acting for her and buying it in her 
name. To aid in the scheme she got her pet forger, 
Retaux de Vilette, to prepare a receipt signed 
"Marie Antoinette de France." The Cardinal fell 
into the trap and obtained the jewel, giving to 
Boemer four bills due successively at intervals of 
six months. At Versailles de Rohan gave the 
casket containing the necklace to Madame de la 
Motte, who in his presence handed it to a valet of 
the royal household for conveyance to the queen. 
The valet was none other than the forger Retaux de 
Vilette. Madame de la Motte sent to the Cardinal 
a letter by the same forger asking him to meet her 
(the queen) in the shrubbery at Versailles between 
eleven o'clock and midnight. To complete the de- 
ception a girl was procured, one Olivia, who in 
figure resembled the queen sufficiently to pass for 
her in the dusk. The meeting between de Rohan 
and the alleged queen was held at the Baths of 
Apollo — to the deception and temporary satisfac- 
tion of the ambitious churchman. When the first 
instalment for the purchase of the necklace was due, 



CAGLIOSTRO 93 

Boemer tried to find out if the queen really had 
possession of the necklace — which had in the mean- 
while been brought to London, it was said, by 
Comte de la Motte. As Boemer could not man- 
age to get an audience with the queen he came to 
the conclusion that he had been robbed, and made 
the matter public. This was reported to M. de 
Breteuil, Master of the King's household, and an 
enemy of de Rohan. De Breteuil saw the queen 
secretly and they agreed to act in concert in the 
matter. Louis XVI asked for details of the pur- 
chase from Boemer, who told the truth so far as 
he knew it, producing as a proof the alleged receipt 
of the queen. Louis pointed out to him that he 
should have known that the queen did not sign 
after the manner of the document. He then asked 
de Rohan, who was Grand Almoner of France, for 
his written justification. This being supplied, he 
had him arrested and sent to the Bastille. Madame 
de la Motte accused Cagliostro of the crime, alleg- 
ing that he had persuaded de Rohan to buy the 
necklace. She was also arrested as were Retaux de 
Vilette, and, later on at Brussels, Olivia, who threw 
some light on the fraud. The King brought the 
whole matter before Parliament, which ordered a 
prosecution. As the result of the trial which fol- 
lowed, Comte de la Motte and Retaux de Vilette 
were banished for life ; Jeanne de la Motte was con- 
demned to make amende honourable, to be whipped 
and branded with V on both shoulders, and to be 



94 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

imprisoned for life. Olivia and Cagliostro were 
acquitted. The Cardinal was cleared of all charges. 
Nothing seems to have been done for the poor jew- 
ellers, who, after all, had received more substantial 
injury than any of the others, having lost nearly 
two million livres. 

After the affair of the Necklace, Cagliostro spent 
a time in the Bastille and when free, after some 
months, he and his wife travelled again in Europe. 
In 1789 he was arrested at Rome by order of the 
Inquisition and condemned to death as a Free- 
mason. The punishment was later commuted to 
perpetual imprisonment. He ended his days in the 
Chateau de Saint-Leon near Rome. His wife was 
condemned to perpetual seclusion and died in the 
Convent of Sainte-Appolive. 



MESMER 

ALTHOUGH Frederic-Antoine Mesmer 
made an astonishing discovery which, hav- 
ing been tested and employed in thera- 
peutics for a century, is accepted as a contribution 
to science, he is included in the list of impostors 
because, however sound his theory was, he used it 
in the manner or surrounded with the atmosphere 
of imposture. Indeed the implement which he used 
in his practice, and which made him famous in 
fashionable and idle society, was set forth as having 
magic properties. He belonged to the same period 
as Cagliostro, having been born but nine years 
before him, in 1734, in Itzmang, Suabia; but the 
impostor pure and simple easily picked up the dif- 
ference by beginning his life-work earlier and fol- 
lowing it quicker with regard to results. Mesmer 
was not in any sense a precocious person. He was 
thirty-two years of age when he took his degree of 
Doctor of Medicine at Vienna in 1765. However 
he had already chosen his subject, animal magnetism 
as allied with medical therapeutics. His early 
script under the title De planetarum influoci is 
looked on as a legal reminiscence of judicial astron- 
omy. He left Vienna because, he said, of a cabal 

95 



96 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

against him, and travelled in Europe, particularly 
in Switzerland, before he went to Paris to seek his 
fortune. This was in 1778, when he was some 
forty-four years of age; his reputation, which had 
been growing all the time, preceded him. He was 
then a man of fine appearance, tall and important- 
looking and conveying a sense of calm power. He 
produced much sensation and was at once credited — 
not without his own will or intention — with magic 
power. He posed as a benefactor of humanity; a 
position which was at once conceded to him, partly 
owing to the fact that an extraordinary atmosphere 
of calm seemed to surround him, which with his 
natural air of assurance founded on self-belief, was 
able to convey to his patients a sense of hope which 
was of course very helpful in cases of nervous fail- 
ure and depression. He settled in the Hotel Bouret 
near the Place Vendome and so in the heart of 
Paris; and at once undertook the treatment of 
patients hitherto deemed incurable. Fashion took 
up the new medical "craze" or "sensation," and he 
at once became the vogue. It was at this time of 
his life that Mesmer came to the parting of the 
ways between earnest science and charlatanism. 
So far as we know he still remained earnest in his 
scientific belief — as indeed he was till the end of 
his days. Inasmuch as fashion requires some con- 
crete expression of its fancies, Mesmer soon used 
the picturesque side of his brain for the service of 
fashionable success. So he invented an appliance 



MESMER 97 

which soon became the talk of the town. This was 
the famous baquet magique or magic tub, a sort of 
covered bath, round which his patients were 
arranged in tiers. To the bath were attached a 
number of tubes, each of which was held by a 
patient, who could touch with the end of it any 
part of his or her body at will. After a while the 
patients began to get excited, and many of them 
went into convulsions. Amongst them walked 
Mesmer, clad in an imposing dress suggestive of 
mystery and carrying a long wand of alleged magic 
power; often calming those who had already 
reached the stage of being actually convulsed. His 
usual method of producing something of the same 
effect at private seances, was by holding the hand 
of the patient, touching the forehead and making 
"passes" with the open hand with fingers spread 
out, and by crossing and uncrossing his arms with 
great rapidity. 

A well-attended seance must have been a curious 
and not altogether pleasant experience even to a 
wholesome spectator in full possession of his natural 
faculties. The whole surroundings of the place 
together with the previously cultured belief; the 
dusk and mystery; the "nrysterious sympathy of 
numbers" — as Dean Farrar called it; the spasmodic 
snapping of the cords of tensity which took away 
all traces of reserve or reticence from the men and 
women present; the vague terror of the unknown, 
that mysterious apprehension which is so potent 



98 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

with the nerves of weak or imaginative people ; and, 
it may be, the slipping of the dogs of conscience — 
all these combined to wreck the moral and mental 
stability of those present, most of whom it must be 
remembered were actually ill, or imagined them- 
selves to be so, which came practically to the same 
thing. The psychical emotion was all very well 
in the world of pleasure ; but these creatures became 
physically sick through nervous strain. As de- 
scribed by the historian, they expectorated freely a 
viscous fluid, and their sickness passed into convul- 
sions more or less violent ; the women naturally suc- 
cumbing more readily and more quickly than the 
men. This absolute collapse — half epileptic, half 
hysterical — lasted varying periods according to the 
influence exercised by the presence of the calm, self- 
reliant operator. We of a later age, when electric 
force has been satisfactorily harnessed and when 
magnetism as a separate power is better understood, 
may find it hard to understand that the most ad- 
vanced and daring scientists of the time — to whom 
Frederic-Antoine Mesmer was at least allied — 
were satisfied that magnetism and electricity were 
variants of the same mysterious force or power. It 
was on this theory that he seems to have worked his 
main idea to practical effect. The base of his sys- 
tem was animal magnetism, which could be super- 
induced or aided by mechanical appliances. He 
did not deceive himself into believing that he had 
invented the idea but was quite willing to make the 



MESMER 99 

utmost use he could of the discoveries and inven- 
tions of others. So far as we can gather his inten- 
tions from his acts, the main object in his scientific 
work was to simplify the processes of turning emo- 
tion into effect. Magnetism had already been 
largely studied, and means were being constantly 
sought for increasing its efficacy. Father Hehl 
had brought to a point of accepted perfection the 
manufacture of metal plates used in magnetic de- 
velopment, and these Mesmer used, with the result 
that a violent controversy took place between them. 
So far as we can follow after the lapse of time, 
Mesmer was consistent in his theories and their ap- 
plication. He held that the principle was one of 
planetary influence on the nervous system, and its 
manifestation was by a process of alternate inten- 
sion and remission. It is possible that Mesmer — 
who held that the heavenly bodies floated in a limit- 
less magnetic fluid and that he could make all sub- 
stances, even such things as bread or dogs magnetic 
— had in his mind the wisdom of following the same 
theory in matters of lesser significance, though of 
more individual import, than those of astronomy 
and its correlated sciences. If so he was wise in his 
generation, for later electricians have found that 
the system of alternating currents especially at high 
tension, is of vast practical importance. That he 
was practical in his use of the ideas of others is 
shown by the fact that he preferred the metallic 
plates of Father Hehl to his own passes, even 



100 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

though the report of the Royal Commission ruined 
him — at any rate checked his success, by stating 
that similar effects to those attending his passes 
could be produced by other means, and that such 
passes had no effect unless through the patient's 
knowledge ; in fact that it was all the work of imag- 
ination. Mesmer had been asked to appear before 
the Commission of the Faculty of Medicine ap- 
pointed in 1784 to investigate and report, but he 
kept away. It would not have injured any man 
to have appeared before such a commission if his 
cause had been a good one. There were two such 
commissions. The first was of the leading phy- 
sicians of Paris, and included such men as Ben- 
jamin Franklin, Lavoisier, the great chemist, and 
'Bailly, the historian of astronomy. 

It was distinctly to his disadvantage that Mes- 
mer always kept at a distance the whole corps of 
savants such as the Faculty of Medicine and the 
Academy of Sciences — for they would no doubt 
have accepted his views, visionary though they were, 
if he could have shown any scientific base for them. 
True medical science has always been suspicious of, 
and cautious regarding, empiricism. More than 
once he stood in his own light in this matter — 
whether through obstinacy or doubt of his own the- 
ory does not matter. For instance, in Vienna, when 
his very existence as a scientist was at stake in the 
matter of the effects of his treatment of Made- 
moiselle Paradis, he introduced a humiliating 



MESMER 101 

clause in his challenge to the Faculty which caused 
them to refuse to accept it. Mademoiselle Paradis 
was blind and subject to convulsions. After treat- 
ing her by his own method Mesmer said she was 
cured. An oculist said, after testing, that she was as 
blind as ever, and her family said that she was 
still subject to convulsions. But Mesmer persisted 
that she was cured, that there was a conspiracy 
against him, and that Mademoiselle Paradis had 
feigned. He challenged the Faculty of Medicine 
on the subject of his discovery. Twenty- four pa- 
tients were to be selected by the Faculty; of these 
twelve were to be treated by Mesmerism and the 
other half by the means ordinarily in use. The 
condition he imposed was that the witnesses were 
not to be of the Faculty. 

Again, when in answer to a request on his part 
that the French Government for the good of the 
community should subsidise him, a proposal was 
made to him, he did not receive it favourably. The 
request he made to Marie Antoinette was that he 
should have an estate and chateau and a handsome 
income, so that he might go on experimenting; he 
put the broad figures at four hundred or five hun- 
dred thousand francs. The Government sugges- 
tion was that he should have a pension of twenty 
thousand francs and the Cross of Saint Michael 
(Knighthood) if he would communicate for public 
use, to a board of physicians nominated by the King, 
such discoveries as he might make. After his re- 



102 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

fusal of the Government proposition Mesmer went 
to Spa, taking with him a number of his patients, 
and there opened a magnetic establishment where 
he renewed his Paris success. He asked Parlia- 
ment to hold an impartial examination into the 
theory and working of Animal Magnetism. Foiled 
in his scheme of state purchase on his own terms, 
he sold his secret to a group of societies, the mem- 
bers of which were to pay him a subscription of a 
hundred louis per capita. By this means he real- 
ised some 340,000 livres — representing to-day over 
a million. The associated body was composed of 
twenty-four societies called "societes de l'harmo- 
nie" — a sort of Freemasonry, under a Grand Mas- 
ter and Chiefs of the Order. A member had to be 
at the time of admission twenty-five years of age, 
of honest state and good name, not to smoke 
tobacco, and to pay an annual subscription of at 
least sixty francs. There were three grades in the 
Order: Initiated Associates, Corresponding Asso- 
ciates and Uninitiated. Amongst those belonging 
to the Society were such men as Lafayette, d'Es- 
premisnil, and Berthollet the great chemist. Ber- 
thollet had, however, peculiar privileges, amongst 
which was the right of criticism. On one occasion 
he had a "row" with Mesmer about his charlatanism. 
At length the French public, wearied with his 
trickeries and angry with his cupidity, openly ex- 
pressed their dissatisfaction. Whereupon he left 
France, taking with him a fortune of three hun- 



MESMER 103 

dred and forty thousand francs. He went to Eng- 
land and thence to Germany. Finally he settled 
down in Mersbourg in his native country, Suabia, 
where he died in 1815, at the age of eighty-one. 



III. THE WANDERING JEW 



THE WANDERING JEW 

THE legend of the Wandering Jew has its 
roots in a belief in the possibility of human 
longevity beyond what is natural and 
normal. It is connected with the story of the Cru- 
cifixion and the mysteries that preceded and fol- 
lowed it. Our account may find its starting point 
in a book of extraordinary interest which made a 
sensation in the seventeenth century and is still 
delightful reading. The passage which should 
arrest our attention is as follows: 

"The story of the Wandering Jew is very strange and will 
hardly obtain belief; yet there is a small account thereof set 
down by Matthew Paris from the report of an Armenian 
Bishop; who came into this Kingdom about four hundred 
years ago, and had often entertained this wanderer at his 
Table. That he was then alive, was first called Cartaphilus, 
was keeper of the Judgment Hall, whence thrusting out our 
Saviour with expostulation of his stay, was condemned to stay 
until His return; was after baptized by Ananias, and by the 
name of Joseph; was thirty years old in the dayes of our 
Saviour, remembered the Saints that arised with Him, the 
making of the Apostles' Creed, and their several peregrina- 
tions. Surely were this true, he might be an happy arbitrator 
in many Christian controversies; but must impardonably con- 
demn the obstinacy of the Jews, who can contemn the Rhet- 

107 



108 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

orick of such miracles, and blindly behold so living and last- 
ing conversions." 

The above is taken from the work entitled "Pseu- 
doxia Epidemica" or Enquiries into very many Re- 
ceived Tenets and Commonly Presumed Truths 
by Sir Thomas Brown, Knight M.D. This was 
first published in 1640, so that the "about four 
hundred years ago" mentioned would bring the 
report of the Armenian Bishop to the first half of 
the thirteenth century. 

Thus unless there be something of an authorita- 
tive character to upset the theory, Matthew Paris 
must be taken as the first European narrator of the 
story. As a matter of fact the legend began just 
about the time thus arrived at. The great work in 
Latin, "Historia Major" was begun by Roger of 
Wendover and completed in 1259 by the monk Mat- 
thew Paris. It was not however published — in our 
ordinary sense of the word — until the beginning 
of the year 1571 when Archbishop Parker took it 
in hand. In the meantime the art of printing had 
been established and the new world of thought and 
the reproduction of its fruit, had been developed 
for common use. The Historia Major was again 
printed in Zurich in 1589 and 1606. The next 
English edition was in 1640. This was reprinted 
in Paris in 1644. The English edition of forty 
years later, 1684, was a really fine specimen of typo- 
graphic art. The authorship and date of its print- 
ing are given : Matthaei Paris, Monachi Albanensis 



THE WANDERING JEW 109 

Angli London MDCLXXXIV. The script is 
in ecclesiastical Latin and to any modern reader 
is of a fresh and almost child-like sincerity which 
at once disarms doubt or hostile criticism. Indeed 
it affords a good example of the mechanism of 
myth, showing how the littleness of human nature 
s — vanity with its desire to shine and credulity in its 
primitive form, are not subject to the controlling 
influences of either sacredness of subject or the 
rulings of common sense. It lends another mean- 
ing to the quotation of Feste, the jester: Cucul- 
lus non facit Monaclium. The artless narrative 
recorded in the Historia Major makes the whole 
inception of the myth transparent. In the mon- 
astery of St. Albans a conversation is held by the 
monks on one side and the Armenian Archbishop 
— name not given, on the other. The interpreter 
in French is one Henri Spigurnel a native of 
Antioch, servant of the bishop. We can gather 
even how Sir Thomas Brown M. D., doctor of 
Norwich and most open-minded of scientists, lent 
himself, unconsciously, to the propagation of error. 
Brown reading, or hearing read, the work of Mat- 
thew Paris took it for granted that the record was 
correct and complete; and in his own book sum- 
marises or generalises the statements made. For 
instance he says that the Armenian bishop had 
"often entertained this wanderer at his table" &c. 
Now it was his servant who told the monks that 
the wandering Jew whom he had seen and heard 



110 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

speaking many times dined at the table of his lord 
the Archbishop. This at once minimises the value 
of the statement, for it does away at once with the 
respect due to the bishop's high office and presumed 
character, and with the sense of intellectual acumen 
and accuracy which might be expected to emanate 
from one of his scholarship and quality. Thus we 
get the story not from an accredited Bishop on a 
foreign mission — rare at the period and entrusted 
only to men of note — but from the gossip of an 
Armenian lacquey or valet, trying to show his own 
importance to a credulous serving brother of the 
monastery. And so, after all, coming from this 
source it is to be accepted with exceeding care — 
not to say doubt, even when seconded by the learned 
monastic scribe Matthew. So, also, for instance 
is his statement regarding the manner in which the 
wanderer's life is miraculously prolonged. It is 
to this effect. Each hundredth year Joseph falls 
into a faint so that he lies for a time unconscious. 
When he recovers he finds that his age is restored 
to that which it was when the Lord suffered. 
Joseph, it must be borne in mind, is the Wander- 
ing Jew, once Cartaphilus, who had kept Pilate's 
judgment-hall. Then Matthew himself takes up 
the story and gives what professes to be the ipsis- 
sima verba of the servant as to the conversation 
between Christ and Cartaphilus which culminated 
in the terrible doom pronounced on the janitor who, 
from the showing, did not seem a whit worse than 



THE WANDERING JEW 111 

any of the crowd present on that momentous day 
in Jerusalem. When Jesus, wearied already with 
carrying the great cross, leaned for a moment 
against the wall of the house of Cartaphilus just 
opposite the Judgment-hall the official said: 

" 'Vade Jesu citius, vade, quid moraris ?' et Jesus severo 
vultu et oculo respiciens eum, dixit: 'Ego vado. Expectabis 
donee veniam.' " 

Now this is the whole and sole foundation of the 
individual Wandering Jew. I say "individual'* 
because there were before long other variants, and 
many old beliefs and fables were appropriated and 
used to back up the marvellous story, invented by 
the Armenian servant and recorded by the learned 
monk, Matthew. Amongst these beliefs were 
those which taught that John the Baptist never 
died; that the aloe blooms only once in a hundred 
years; and that the phoenix renews itself in fire. 
It is the tendency of legendary beliefs to group or 
neucleate themselves as though there were a con- 
scious and intentional effort at self -protection ; and 
this, together with the natural human tendency to 
enlarge and elaborate an accepted idea, is respon- 
sible for much. The legend started in the thir- 
teenth century, took root and flourished, and in 
the very beginning of the seventeenth a variant 
blossomed. In this Joseph, originally Cartaphilus, 
became Ahasuerus. In the long pause the story, 
after the manner of all things of earth, had grown, 



112 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

details not being lacking. The world was in- 
formed through the Bishop of Schleswig, how in 
1547, at Hamburg, a man was seen in the Cathe- 
dral who arrested attention — why we are not told. 
He was about fifty years of age, of reverend man- 
ner, and dressed in ragged clothes; he bowed low 
at the name of Christ. Many of the nobility and 
gentry who saw him recognised him as one whom 
they had already seen in various places — England, 
France, Italy, Hungary, Persia, Spain, Poland, 
Moscow, Lieffland, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, 
&c. Inquiry being made of him, he told the Bishop 
that he was Ahasuerus the shoe-maker of Jerusa- 
lem, who had been present at the Crucifixion and 
had ever since been always wandering. He was 
well posted in history, especially regarding the 
lives and sufferings of the Apostles, and told how, 
when he had directed Christ to move on, the latter 
had answered: "I will stand here and rest, but 
thou shalt move on till the last day." He had been 
first seen, we are told, at Lubeck. 

It is strange that in an age of religious domina- 
tion many of the legends of Our Saviour seem to 
have been based on just such intolerant anger at 
personal slight as might have ruled a short-tem- 
pered, vain man. For instance look at one of the 
Christ legends which was reproduced in poor 
Ophelia's distracted mind apropos of the owl, 
"They say, the owl was a baker's daughter." The 
Gloucestershire legend runs that Christ having 



THE WANDERING JEW 113 

asked for bread at baking time the mistress of the 
bakery took dough from the oven, but her daugh- 
ter having remonstrated as to the size of the bene- 
faction was turned into an owl. The penalty in- 
flicted on the erring janitor of the Presidium is 
another instance. 

The "Wandering Jew" legend once started, was 
hard to suppress. The thirteenth, fourteenth, 
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were the ages of 
Jew-baiting in the kingdoms of the West, and 
naturally the stories took their colour from the pre- 
vailing idea. 

In 1644, Westphalus learned from various 
sources that the Wandering Jew healed diseases, 
and that he had said he was at Rome when it was 
burned by Nero; that he had seen the return of 
Saladin after his Eastern Conquests; that he had 
been in Constantinople when Salimen had built the 
royal mosque; that he knew Tamerlane the Scyth- 
ian, and Scander Beg, Prince of Epirus; that he 
had seen Bajazet carried in a cage by Tamerlane's 
order; that he remembered the Caliphs of Baby- 
lon and of Egypt, the Empire of the Saracens, 
and the Crusades where he had known Godfrey de 
Bouillon. Amongst other things he seems to have 
apologised for not seeing the Sack of Jerusalem, 
because he was at that time in Rome at the Court 
of Vespasian. 

The Ahasuerus version of the Wandering Jew 
legend seems to have been the popular one 



114 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

amongst the commonalty in England. As an in- 
stance might be quoted the broad-sheet ballad of 
1670. It is not without even historical significance 
as it marks the measure of the time in many ways. 
It is headed: "The Wandering Jew, or the Shoe- 
maker of Jerusalem who lived when Our Lord and 
Saviour Jesus Christ was crucified appointed by 
Him to five until Coming again. Tune, The 
Lady's Fall &c. Licens'd and Enter'd according 
to order." The imprint runs: "Printed by and 
for W. O. and sold by the Booksellers of Pye- 
corner and London-Bridge." 

A century and a half later — 1828 — was pub- 
lished a much more pretentious work on the same 
theme. This was a novel written by Rev. George 
Croly. It was called: "Salathiel: a Story of the 
Past, the Present, the Future." It was published 
anonymously and had an immediate and lasting 
success. It was founded on historical lines, the 
author manifestly benefiting by the hints afforded 
by the work of that consummate liar ( in a historical 
sense) Westphalus — or his informant. Croly was 
a strange man with a somewhat abnormal faculty 
of abstraction. I used to hear of him from my 
father who was a friend of his about a hundred 
years ago. Being of gentle nature he did not 
wish to cause any pain or concern to his family or 
dependents; but at the same time he, as a writer, 
had to guard himself against interruption and con- 
sequent digression of his thoughts during the times 



THE WANDERING JEW 115 

he set apart for imaginative work. So he devised 
a scheme which might often be put in practice with 
advantage by others similarly employed. When 
settling down to a spell of such work — which as 
every creative writer knows involves periods of 
mental abstraction though of bodily restlessness — 
he would stick an adhesive wafer on his forehead. 
The rule of the house was that when he might be 
adorned in this wise no one was to speak to him, 
or even notice him, except under special necessity. 
The great vogue of Salathiel lasted some ten or 
more years, when the torch of the Wandering Jew 
was lighted by Eugene Sue the French novelist 
who had just completed in the Debats his story 
"Les Mysteres de Paris." As its successor he 
chose the theme adopted by Croly, and the new 
novel Le Juif -Errant ran with overwhelming suc- 
cess in the Constitutionnel. 

Sue was what in modern slang is called "up to 
date." He knew every trick and dodge of the 
world of advertisement, and in conjunction with 
his editor, Dr. Veron, he used them all. But he 
had good wares to exploit. His novels are really 
excellent, though the changes in social life and in 
religious, political and artistic matters, which took 
place between 1844 and 1910, make some things in 
them seem out of date. His great imagination, and 
his firm and rapid grasp of salient facts susceptible 
of being advantageously used in narrative, pointed 
out to him a fresh road. It was not sufficient to the 



116 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

hour and place that Cartaphilus — or Joseph — or 
Ahasuerus, or Salathiel or whatever he might be 
called — should purge his sin by his personal suffer- 
ings alone. In the legend, up to then accepted, he 
had long ago repented; so to increase the poig- 
nancy of his sufferings, Sue took from the experi- 
ence of his own time a means of embittering the 
very inmost soul of such an one. He must be 
made to feel that his existence is a curse not only 
to himself but to all the world. To this end he at- 
tached to the Wanderer the obligation of carrying 
a fell disease. The quick brain of the great feuil- 
letonist seized the dramatic moment for utilising 
the occasion. A dozen years before, the frightful 
spread of the cholera, which had once again 
wrought havoc, woke the whole world to new ter- 
ror. Some one of uneasy mind who found diver- 
sion in obscure comparisons, noted from the rec- 
ords of the disease that its moving showed the same 
progress in a given direction as a man's walking. 
A hint was sufficient for the public who eagerly 
seized the idea that the Wandering Jew had, from 
the first recorded appearance of the cholera, been 
the fated carrier of that dreaded pestilence. The 
idea seemed to be a dramatic inspiration and had 
prehensile grasp. Great as had been the success 
of the Mysteries of Paris, that of The Wandering 
Jew surpassed it, and for half a century the new 
novel kept vividly before its readers the old tra- 
dition, and so brought it down to the present. 



THE WANDERING JEW 117 

We may now begin to ask ourselves who and 
where in this great deception was the impostor. 
Who was the guilty one? And at first glance we 
are inclined to say "There is none! Whatever the 
error, mistake, deception, or false conclusion, there 
has been no direct guilt." This is to presuppose 
that guilt is of conscious premeditation ; and neither 
intention of evil nor consciousness of guilt is ap- 
parent. In legal phrase the mens rea is lacking. 

It is a purely metaplrysical speculation whether 
guilt is a necessaiy element of imposition. One is 
an intellectual experience, the other is an ethical 
problem ; and if we are content to deal with respon- 
sibility for another's misdoing, the question of the 
degree of blameworthiness is sufficient. Let us try 
a process of exclusions. The complete list of those 
who had a part in the misunderstanding regarding 
the myth of the Wandering Jew, leaving out the 
ostensible fictionists, were: 

The Abbot of St. Albans, the Archbishop of 
Armenia, the interpreter, the Archbishop's servant, 
the monks or laybrothers who singly or in general 
conversed with any of the above; and finally Mat- 
thew Paris who recorded the story in its various 
phases. Of these we must except from all blame 
both the Abbot of St. Albans and the Archbishop 
of Armenia, both of whom were good grave men 
of high character and to each of whom had been en- 
trusted matters of the highest concern. The in- 
terpreter seems to have only fulfilled his office with 



118 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

exactitude; if in any way or part he used his op- 
portunity to impose on the ignorance of the host 
or the guest there is no record, no suggestion of it. 
Matthew Paris was a man of such keenness of 
mind, of such observation and of such critical in- 
sight, that even to-day, after a lapse of over five 
hundred years, and the withstanding of all the tests 
of a new intellectual world which included such in- 
ventions as printing and photography, he is looked 
upon as one of the ablest of chroniclers. More- 
over he put no new matter nor comments of his 
own into the wonderful and startling narratives 
which he was called on to record. He even hints at 
or infers his own doubt as to the statements made. 
The monks, servants and others mentioned gen- 
erally, were merely credulous, simple people of the 
time, with reverence for any story regarding the 
Via Dolorosa, and respect or awe for those in high 
places. 

There remains but the servant of the foreign 
Archbishop. It is to him that we must look for 
any outrage on our normal beliefs. He was mani- 
festly a person of individually small importance — 
even Matthew Paris whose trained work it was to 
record with exactness, and whose duty it therefore 
was to sustain or buttress main facts, did not think 
it necessary or worth while to mention his name. 
He had in himself none of the dignity, honour, 
weight, learning or position of the noble of the 
Church who was the Abbot's guest. He was after 



THE WANDERING JEW 119 

all but a personal servant; probably one of readi- 
ness and expediency with a quick imagination and 
a glib tongue. One who could wriggle through a 
difficult position, defend himself with ready ac- 
quiescence, gain his ends of securing his master's 
ease, and find all necessary doors open through the 
bonhommie of his fellow servitors. Such an one 
accustomed to the exigencies of foreign travel, must 
have picked up many quaint conceits, legends and 
japes, and was doubtless a persona grata liked and 
looked up to by persons of his own class, sanctified 
to some little extent by the reflected glory of his 
master's great position. It is more than likely that 
he had been the recipient of many confidences re- 
garding legend and conjecture concerning sacred 
matters, and that any such legend as he spoke of 
would have been imparted under conditions favour- 
able to his own comfort. After the manner of his 
kind his stories doubtless lost nothing in the telling 
and gained considerably in the re-telling. Even 
in the short record of Matthew Paris, there is evi- 
dence of this in the way in which, after the strik- 
ing story of Cartaphilus has been told, he returns 
to the matter again, adding picturesque and incon- 
clusive details of the manner of the centennial re- 
newal of the wanderer's youth. The simplest 
analysis here will show the falsity of the story; 
what the great logician Archbishop Whately al- 
ways insisted on — "internal evidence" — is dead 
against the Armenian valet, courier, or servitor. 



120 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

He gave circumstantial account of the periodic 
illness, loss of memory, and recovery of youth on 
the part of Cartaphilus; but there is no hint of 
how he came to know it, and Cartaphilus could not 
have told him, nor anybody else. We may, I think, 
take it for granted that no other mere mortal was 
present, for, had any other human being been there, 
all the quacksalvers of a thousand miles around 
would have moved heaven and earth to get infor- 
mation of what was going on, since in mediaeval 
days there was nearly as much competition in the 
world of charlatanism as there is to-day in the 
world of sport. The Armenian was much too 
handy a man at such a crisis to be found out, so we 
may give him the benefit of the doubt and at once 
credit him with invention. It is hard to under- 
stand — or even to believe without understanding — 
that so mighty a legend and one so tenacious of life, 
arose and grew from such a beginning. And yet 
it is in accord with the irony of nature that one 
who has unintentionally and unwittingly achieved 
a publicity which would dwarf the malign reputa- 
tion of Herostratus should have his name unre- 
corded. 



IV. JOHN LAW 



JOHN LAW 

THE MISSISSIPPI SCHEME AND ITS ANTECEDENTS 

THE great "Mississippi Scheme" which 
wrought havoc on the French in 1720 is 
the central and turning point in the his- 
tory of John Law, late of Lauriston, Controller- 
General of Finance in France. His father, Wil- 
liam Law (grand nephew of James Law, Arch- 
bishop of Glasgow) was a goldsmith in that city. 

As in the seventeenth century the goldsmiths 
were also the bankers and moneylenders of the 
community, a successful goldsmith might be looked 
on as on the highroad to great fortune. To Wil- 
liam Law in 1671 was born his first son John, who 
had considerable natural talent in the way of math- 
ematics — and a nature which was such as to nullify 
their use. As a youth he showed proficiency in 
arithmetic and algebra, but as he was also in those 
early days riotous and dissipated, we may fairly 
come to the conclusion that he did not use his nat- 
ural powers to their best advantage. He was al- 
ready a gambler of a marked kind. Before he 
was of age he was already in debt and was squan- 
dering his patrimony. He sold the estate of 
Lauriston which his thrifty father had acquired, 

123 



124 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

and gave himself over to a life of so-called pleasure. 
His mother, who had family ambitions, bought the 
estate so that it might remain in the family of its 
new possessors. He removed himself to London 
where within a couple of years he was sentenced to 
death for murder — not a vulgar premeditated mur- 
der for gain, but the unhappy result of a duel 
wherein he had killed his opponent, a boon com- 
panion, one Austin who had acquired the soubriquet 
of "Beau" Austin. Through social influence the 
death penalty was commuted for imprisonment, 
and the crime only regarded as manslaughter. He 
had however to deal with the relatives of the dead 
man who were naturally vindictive. One of them 
entered an appeal against the commutation of the 
sentence. Law, with the characteristic prudence 
of his time and nationality, did not wait for the 
leisurely settlement of the legal process, but es- 
caped to the continent where he remained for some 
years sojourning in various places. Being nat- 
urally clever and daring he seems to have generally 
fallen on his feet. Whilst in Holland he became 
secretary to an important official in the diplomatic 
world, from which service he drifted into an em- 
ployment with the Bank of Amsterdam. Here the 
natural bent of his mind found expression. Bank- 
ing in some of its forms is gambling, and as he was 
both banker and gambler — one by inherited tend- 
ency and the other by personal disposition — he be- 
gan to find his vogue, addressing himself seriously 




JOHN LAW 



JOHN LAW 125 

to the intricacies and possibilities of the profession 
of banking. He was back in Scotland in 1701 (a 
risky venture on his part for his felony had not been 
"purged") and published a pamphlet, "Proposals 
and Reasons for constituting a Council of Trade in 
Scotland/' This he followed up after some years, 
with another pamphlet, "Money and Trade con- 
sidered, with a proposal for supplying the Nation 
with Money 3 ; and in the same year (1709) he pro- 
pounded to the Scotch Parliament a scheme for a 
State Bank on the security of land — a venture 
which on being tried speedily collapsed. This, 
like other schemes of that period, was based on the 
issue and use of paper money. 

In the meantime, and for five or six years after- 
wards, he was travelling variously throughout 
Europe, occupying himself with formulating suc- 
cessive schemes of finance, and in gambling — a 
process in which he, being both skilled and lucky, 
amassed a sum of over a hundred thousand pounds. 
He had varying fortunes, however, and was ex- 
pelled from several cities. He was not without be- 
lievers in his powers. Amongst them was the Earl 
of Stair, then Ambassador to France, who allured 
by his specious methods of finance, suggested to 
the Earl of Stanhope that he might be useful in 
devising a scheme for paying off the British Na- 
tional Debt. After the death of Louis XIV, in 
1715, he suggested to the Duke of Orleans, the 
Regent for the young King (Louis XV), the for- 



126 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

mation of a State Bank. The Regent favoured 
the idea, but his advisers were against it; it was, 
however, agreed that Law might found a bank 
with power to issue notes and accept deposits. 
This was done by Letters Patent and the Banque 
Generate came into existence in 1710, and was an 
immediate success. Its principle was to issue 
paper money which was to be repayable by coin. 
Its paper rose to a premium in 1716; in 1717 there 
was a decree that it was to be accepted in the pay- 
ment of taxes. This created a new form of cheap 
money, with the result that there was a great and 
sudden extension of industry and trade. From 
this rose the idea of a new enterprise — The Missis- 
sippi Company — which was to outvie the success 
of the East India Company incorporated by Char- 
ter in 1600 under the title of "The Governor 
and Company of the Merchants of London trading 
to the East Indies," which after periods of doubt- 
ful fortune, and having become consolidated with 
its rival "The General East India Company;" — 
partially in 1702, and completely in 1708, under the 
somewhat elephantine name of "The United Com- 
pany of Merchants of England trading to the East 
Indies" — was now a vast organization of national 
importance. To the new French Company for ex- 
ploiting the Mississippi Valley was made over 
Louisiana (which then included what were after- 
wards the States of Ohio and Missouri) . The De- 
cree of Incorporation was issued in 1717. The 



JOHN LAW 127 

Parliament at Paris presently grew jealous of such 
a concession having been given to a foreigner ; and 
the next year a rumour went about that Parliament 
was about to have him arrested, tried, and hanged. 
The Regent met the parliamentary resistance by 
making (1718) the Banque Generate into the 
Banque Royale — the King guaranteeing the notes. 
Law was made Director General; but he was un- 
able to prevent the Regent from increasing the 
issue of paper money, by which means he managed 
to satisfy dishonestly his own extravagance. It 
was a fiscal principle of the time that the State ac- 
countants did not go behind the King's receipt — 
the acquit de comptant as it was called. 

The Western Company was enlarged in 1718 by 
a grant of a monopoly of tobacco, and of the 
rights of trading ships and merchandise of the 
Company of Senegal. In 1719, the Banque 
Royale absorbed the rights of the East India and 
China Companies, and then assumed the all-em- 
bracing title of Compagnie des Indes. The next 
year it took in the African Company; and so 
through that the whole of the non-European trade 
of France. In 1719, the management of the Mint 
was handed over to Law's Company; and he was 
thus enabled to manipulate the coinage. In the 
same year he had undertaken to pay off the French 
National Debt, and so become the sole creditor of 
the Nation. He already exercised the functions of 
Receiver General and had revenue-farming abol- 



128 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

ished in its favour. He now controlled the collec- 
tion and disposal of the whole of the State tax- 
ation. At this stage of his adventure, Law seemed 
a good fiscal administrator. He repealed or re- 
duced pressing taxes on useful commodities, and 
reduced the price of necessaries by forty per cent, 
so that the peasants could increase the value of their 
holdings and their crops without fear of coming 
later into the remorseless grip of the tax-farmer 
under the infamous metayer system. Free-trade 
was in the Provinces practically established. This, 
so far as it went, was all Law's doing. Turgot, 
who later got credit for what had been done, only 
carried out what the Scotch financier had planned. 

Law had promised high dividends to the specu- 
lators in his scheme, and had so far paid them; so 
it was no wonder that "The System" raised its 
head again. In 1719-20, all France seemed to 
flock to Paris to such a degree and with such unan- 
imity of purpose, that it was difficult to obtain room 
to go on with the necessary work of the Mississippi 
Scheme. In such matters, resting on human greed 
which throws all prudence to the winds, the pressure 
is always towards the centre; and the narrow street 
of Quin cam poix became a seething mass, day and 
night, of speculators in a hurry to buy shares. 
The time for trying to sell them had not yet ar- 
rived. 

Naturally such a locality rose in value, and as 
demand emphasises paucity of space, extraordinary 



JOHN LAW 129 

prices ruled. Even a small share in the lucky 
street, where fortunes could be made in an hour, 
rose to fabulous value. Houses formerly letting 
for forty pounds a year now fetched eight hundred 
pounds per month. And no wonder, when shares 
of the face value of five hundred livres sold for ten 
thousand! When there is such an overwhelming 
desire to buy, then is the opportunity for sellers to 
realise, and the time for such speculation on the one 
side, and for such commerce on the other, is nat- 
urally short and the need pressing. 

At the beginning of 1720 everything seemed to 
be increasing in a sort of geometric ratio. After a 
dividend of forty per cent, had been declared, 
shares of five hundred value rose to eighteen thou- 
sand. Greed, and the opportunity for satisfying 
its craving, turned the heads of ordinarily sensible 
people. The whole world seemed mad. It ap- 
peared right enough that the financial wonder- 
worker who had created such a state of things 
should be loaded with additional honours. It was 
only scriptural that he who had already multiplied 
his talents should be entrusted with more. There 
was universal rejoicing when John Law — exiled 
foreigner and condemned murderer — was ap- 
pointed, in January, 1720, Controller-General of 
the whole finances of France. Naturally enough, 
even the hard head of the canny Scot began to 
manifest symptoms of giving way in the shape of 
becoming exalte. And naturally enough his ene- 



130 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

mies — financial, political and racial — did not 
lose the opportunities afforded them of taking ad- 
vantage of it. Tongues began to wag, and all 
sorts of rumours, some of them reconcilable with 
common sense and easily credible, others out- 
rageous, began to go about. Lord Stair reported 
that Law had boasted that he would raise France 
on the ruins of England and Holland, to a 
greater height than she had ever reached; that he 
could crush the East India Company and even de- 
stroy British trade and credit when he chose. 
Stair resented this, and he and Law from being 
close friends became enemies. To appease the in- 
censed and at present all-powerful Law, the pow- 
ers that were recalled Lord Stair. 

On 23 February 1720, the Compagnie des Indes 
and the Banque Royale were united, thus linking 
the ends of the financial chain. "The System" 
was now complete. 

When Aladdin set the Genius, who had hitherto 
worked so willingly, the final task of hanging a 
roc's egg in the centre of the newly-created palace, 
he brought the whole structure tumbling about his 
ears. So it was with John Law and the egregious 
Mississippi Scheme. His idea was complete and 
perfect. But the high sun when it reaches its 
meridianal splendour begins from that instant its 
downward course. 

The reaction was not long in manifesting itself. 
Usually in such matters there is a pause before the 



JOHN LAW 131 

great driving-wheels reverse their motion, and the 
backward motion, beginning slowly, gathers way 
as it progresses. But in this case human intelli- 
gence and not soulless machinery was the propul- 
sive force of reaction. The speculators had begun 
to work before the onward movement had come to 
an end or even begun to slacken. They were 
loaded up with a vast amount of stocks whose 
value, even if there had been money to redeem 
them, was severely limited, whereas they had pur- 
chased at prices varying between the first rise above 
nominal value and that reached by the last desper- 
ate speculator. It is not wise to hold such inflated 
stock too long, and in a crisis sailing-master Wis- 
dom orders Quarter-master Caution to take a trick 
at the helm. When the bare idea of unification of 
financial interests was mooted, the wise holders of 
stock commenced to unload. When this move- 
ment began its progress was rapid — so long as 
there was anything to be moved. The first class 
to feel it were the bankers. The specie ran out like 
the pent-up water from a burst reservoir, till in an 
incredibly short time there was not sufficient re- 
maining to afford the money-change needed in 
daily life. The advisers and officials of the State, 
seriously alarmed, began at once to take strong 
measures supported by royal decrees. Then as 
ruin began to stare the whole nation in the face 
more and more with every hour, desperate expedi- 
ents were resorted to. The value of the currency 



132 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

was made by every stratagem, dishonest trick, and 
unscrupulous exercise of power, to fluctuate so that 
such differences or margins as arose might be 
grasped forthwith for national use. Payments in 
bullion, except for very small amounts, were for- 
bidden. The possession of anything over five hun- 
dred livres in specie was deemed an offence punish- 
able by confiscation, partial or wholesale, and by 
fine. Domiciliary visits were paid to seek evidence 
of offence and to enforce the new laws, and in- 
formers in this connection were well paid. 

Then began a war, between public oppression 
and individual trickery, to defend acquired rights 
and evade unjust demands. The holders of paper 
money, unable to realise in specie, tried to protect 
themselves by purchasing goods of intrinsic value. 
Precious metals, jewels, and such like were bought 
in such quantities that the supplies diminished and 
the prices grew, until to avoid immediate ruin, such 
purchases were proclaimed illegal and prohibited. 
Then ordinary commodities of lesser values were 
tried as means of barter, till their prices too rose to 
such an extent that trade was paralysed. In order 
to meet the growing danger a still more desperate 
expedient was resorted to. A decree was issued 
the effect of which would be to reduce — grad- 
ually it was hoped — the obligation of bank notes 
to one-half their nominal value. This completed 
the panic, for here was a position which could not 
be guarded against by any prudence or wisdom. 



JOHN LAW 133 

No one could henceforth by any possibility be 
financially safe. The speculators who had already 
realised were alone safe. Bona fide investors, if 
not already overwhelmed by disaster, saw the tide 
of ruin rising rapidly around them. Nothing 
within the power of the state could now be done to 
check or even lessen the state of panic; not even 
the reversal of the late decree in ten days after its 
issue. To make matters still worse the Banque 
at this very time suspended payment. Probably 
in a wild endeavour to do something which would 
avert odium from itself by saddling the responsi- 
bility on someone else, the Government procured 
the dismissal of Law from the Controller-Gen- 
eralship of Finance. However — strange to say — 
he was very soon appointed by the Regent as In- 
tendant-General of Commerce and Director of the 
ruined bank. The much-vaunted, idolised, and be- 
lieved-in "System" had now fallen hopelessly and 
was ruined forever. Law was everywhere at- 
tacked and insulted with such unmitigated rancour 
that he had to leave the country. He had invested 
the bulk of the great fortune which he had by now 
acquired, in estates in France; and these together 
with everything else that he had were now con- 
fiscated. 

At the end of the same year, 1720, whilst he was 
at Brussels he was asked by the command of the 
Czar (Peter) , to administer the finances of Russia, 
but declined. After this episode, grateful to a 



134 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

broken man, he spent a couple of years wandering 
about Italy and Germany and probably gaining a 
fluctuating income through gambling. Next he 
was to be found in Copenhagen where he had 
sought sanctuary from his creditors. Next year 
there was an outward change in his status, when he 
went to England, on a ship of war, at the invita- 
tion of the Government. There he was presented 
to George I. Somewhat to his chagrin he was de- 
nounced in the House of Lords as a Catholic — (he 
had abjured his old belief of Protestantism before 
accepting the high office of Controller-General of 
Finances in 1720) — and an adherent of the Pre- 
tender. He pleaded in the King's Bench the 
Royal pardon for the murder of Beau Austin which 
had been sent to him in 1719. He spent the suc- 
ceeding few years in England whence he corre- 
sponded with the Duke of Orleans. He expected 
to be recalled to France but his hope was never 
realised. He wished to go to the Continent but 
was practically a prisoner in England, fearing to 
leave it lest he should be arrested by his creditors, 
amongst whom was the new French East India 
Company which had been reconstructed on the ruins 
of the old. In 1725 Sir Robert Walpole, then 
Prime Minister, asked Lord Townshend, the Sec- 
retary of State, to give Law a King's commission 
of some sort, so that such might serve for his pro- 
tection. In the same year he went to Italy. He 
died in Venice in 1729, in what, compared with his 



JOHN LAW 135 

former state, was poverty. To the last he was a 
gambler, always ready to take long risks for a pros- 
pect, however remote, of large gain. A story is 
told that in his last years he wagered his last thou- 
sand pounds to a shilling (20,000 to 1) against the 
throwing of double sixes six consecutive times. 
The law of chances was with him and naturally he 
won. He renewed his wager but the authorities 
would not allow the further gamble to take place. 

John Law married, quite early in life, the 
daughter of the Earl of Banbury and widow of 
Mr. Seignior. His widow died in 174>7. Some of 
the members of his family were not undistin- 
guished; his son died a Colonel in the Austrian 
service; and one of his nephews became Comte de 
Lauriston and rose to be a General in the French 
army and Aide-de-Camp to the first Napoleon. 
He was made a Marshal of France by Louis 
XVIII. 

John Law was a handsome and distinguished- 
looking man, blonde, with small dark grey eyes 
and fresh complexion. He made an agreeable im- 
pression on strangers. Saint-Simon, the social 
historian, gave him a good character: "innocent of 
greed and knavery, a mild good man whom for- 
tune had not spoilt." Others of his time regarded 
him as a pioneer of modern statesmanship. 

How is it then that such a man must be set down 
an impostor? In historical perspective as an im- 
postor he must be regarded, though not as such in 



136 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

the narrowest view. The answer is that his very 
prominence sits amongst his judges. Lesser men, 
and greater men of lesser position, might well stand 
excused in matters wherein he is accorded condem- 
nation. 

"That in the Captain's but a choleric word 
Which in the soldier is flat blasphemy." 

If, when a man plays a game wherein life and 
death and the fortunes of many thousands are in- 
volved, it behoves him to be at least careful, much 
greater is his responsibility where the prosperity 
and happiness of nations are at stake. Had Law 
merely started new theories of finance, and had 
they gone wrong, he might well claim, and be ac- 
corded, excuse. But his were inventions of what, 
in modern slang, is called "get-rich-quick" prin- 
ciples. Not only did Law not enrich human life — 
with one exception, that of enlarging the currency 
in use — or add to the sum total of human well-be- 
ing and happiness; he even neglected to show that 
forethought and consideration for others which in 
all honour ought to be exercised by the deviser and 
controller of great risks. He was a gambler, and 
a gambler only. He merely put into the pockets 
of some persons that which he had taken out of the 
pockets of others; and in doing so showed no con- 
sideration for the poor, the thrifty, the needy — 
for any of those whose contentment and happiness 
depend on such as are in high places and dowered 



JOHN LAW 137 

in some way with productive powers. The soulless 
uneducated churl who does an honest day's work 
does more for humanity than the genius who merely 
shifts about the already garnered wealth of ages. 
John Law posed as a benefactor and accepted all 
the benefits that accrued to him from the praises of 
those who followed in his wake and gleaned the 
rich wastage of his empire-moving theories and 
schemes. Financiers of Law's type no more bene- 
fit a country or enrich a people than do the hordes 
of wasters and "tape"-betting men who prey on 
labour as locusts do on the crops. If they wish not 
to do unnecessary harm — which is putting their 
duty at the lowest possible estimate — they should at 
least try to avoid repeating the errors which have 
wrecked others. A brief glance at the wreckage 
which lay well within the Scotch gambler's vision, 
will show how he shut his eyes deliberately not only 
to facts, but to the many correlations of cause and 
effect. Before his Mississippi Scheme was for- 
mulated, there had been experience of banking en- 
terprises, of schemes for mercantile combination 
and for the exploitation of capital, of adventurous 
dealings in the developments of countries new and 
more or less savage, East and West and South. 

The following list will typify. Of all these John 
Law had knowledge sufficient to judge of diffi- 
culties to be encountered in the early stages, of 
dangers not only incidental to the things them- 
selves, but based deep in human nature. 



138 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

The East India Company founded in 1600 
The Bank of England founded in 1694 
The Africa Company founded in 1695 
The Darien Company founded in 1695 

A glance at each of these, all of which were within 
the scope and knowledge of Law, their aims, for- 
mation and development, up to the time spoken of, 
can hardly fail to be illuminative. The six- 
teenth century had been an age of adventure 
and discovery ; the seventeenth of the foundation of 
great commercial enterprise, of conception of ideas, 
of the constructive beginnings of things. The time 
for development had come with the eighteenth; and 
now care and forethought, prudence and resource, 
were the preparations for success. 

The East India Company was in reality the 
pioneer of corporate trading, and as for nearly a 
hundred years it was in a measure alone in its scale 
of magnitude, its experiences could well serve as 
exemplar, guide, and danger signal. It was based 
on that surest of all undertakings, natural growth. 
It came into existence because it was wanted, and 
from no other cause. Its very name, its modest 
capital, its self-protective purpose make for under- 
standing. 

In its Charter of Incorporation its purpose was 
indicated in the name: "The Governor and Com- 
pany of Merchants of London trading to the East 
Indies." Its capital was £70,000, which though 



JOHN LAW 139 

a large sum for those days, was, according to our 
modern lights, an almost ridiculously small sum for 
the object then before it, and to which it ultimately 
attained. The time was ripe for just such an un- 
dertaking. 

The Peace of Vervins (1598) which left both 
France and Spain free to look after their domestic 
concerns, was immediately followed by the Edict of 
Nantes (1599) which gave religious liberty to 
France, and such a new freedom is always followed 
by national expansion. By this time Spain — the 
explorer or conqueror — and Holland — the patient 
organiser — held Eastern commerce in their hands. 
England had been gradually making a commerce 
of her own in the Indies, and all that was required 
was an official acknowledgment, so that the thunder 
of her guns should, when required, follow the 
creaking of her cordage. From the story of this 
great enterprise, through its first twenty-five years, 
could be drawn the lesson of such schemes as Law 
was now formulating. Though it had succeeded, 
in spite of Dutch and Portuguese opposition, in 
establishing "factories" when the historic massacre 
by the Dutch at Amboyna in the Molucca Islands, 
took place in 1725, the Eastern Company seemed 
near its dissolution. It was not till the establish- 
ment of the Hooghly factory in 1742 that things 
began to look up. After that, fortune favoured 
the Company more than she had appeared likely 
to do at the start. The marriage of Charles II to 



140 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Catherine of Braganza in 1661 brought progress 
in its train. Catherine's dower, which included 
Bombay and so put a part of Portugal's later pos- 
sessions in British keeping, greatly stimulated the 
East India Company which thenceforth was able 
to weather the storms that threatened or assailed. 
The privilege of making war on its own account, 
conceded by Charles II, gave the Company a na- 
tional importance which was destined to consolidate 
its interests with those of England itself. So 
strong did it become that before the end of the 
eighteenth century it was able to resist the attack on 
its charter made by a powerful and progressive 
rival, the "New Company." The rivals, after a few 
years of pourparlers and tentative efforts, were 
united in 1708; and thenceforth the amalgamation, 
under the title "The United Company of Mer- 
chants of England trading to the East Indies," was 
practically unassailable on its own account. It was 
additionally safe in that it had the protection of the 
great Whig Party under Godolphin. The capital 
of the Company, now enlarged to £3,200,000, was 
lent to the Government at five per cent, interest and 
was finally merged in the National Funds. The 
history of the Company, after 1717 does not belong 
here, as it is only considered as showing that John 
Law had the experience of an earlier Company 
similar to his own to guide him in its management 
if he had chosen to avail himself of it. 

The Bank of England was, strangely enough, 



JOHN LAW 141 

the project of a Scotchman, William Paterson. 
The plan was submitted to Government in 1691 
but was not carried into existence for three years. 
It was purely a business concern, brought into 
effective existence through the needs of commerce, 
the opportunity afforded being the need of the 
State and the concern of the statesman. It had a 
capital at first of over £1,200,000, which was 
loaned to the nation on the security of the taxes 
when the Charter was signed, there being certain 
safeguards against the possibility of political mis- 
use. The Controlling Board was to have twenty- 
five members who were to be elected annually by 
the stockholders with a substantial qualification. 
There were at this time in England private banks ; 
but this was an effort to formulate the banking 
rights, duties, and powers of capital under the a?gis 
of the State itself. But even so sound a venture, 
enormously popular from the very first and with 
the whole might of the nation behind it, had its 
own difficulties to encounter. Its instantaneous 
success was an incentive to other adventurers; and 
the co-operation with government which it made 
manifest created jealousy with private persons and 
commercial concerns. Within two years its very 
existence was threatened, first by the individual 
hostility of those in the bullion trade, who already 
acted as bankers, and then by a rival concern in- 
corporated under strong political support. This 
was the National Land Bank whose purpose was to 



142 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

use the security of real estate as a guarantee for 
the paper money which it issued for convenient 
usage. Strong as the Bank of England was by 
its nature, its popularity, and its support, it was 
in actual danger until the rival which had never 
"caught on" — to use an apposite Americanism — 
actually and almost instantaneously collapsed. 

The safety thus temporarily obtained was pur- 
chased at the cost to the Government of a further 
loan of two million sterling — with the value to the 
contra of an alliance thus begun with the Whig 
ministry. 

A further danger came from the mad and mad- 
dening South Sea Scheme five years later; but 
from which it was happily saved solely through the 
greater cupidity and daring of the newer company. 

The Darien Company, which followed hard on 
the heels of The African Company, was formed in 
1695, by Paterson; on the base of An Act of the 
Scottish Parliament for the purpose of making an 
opening for Scottish capital after the manner of 
the East India Company by which English enter- 
prise had already so largely benefited. Its career 
was of such short duration and its failure so com- 
plete that there was little difficulty in understanding 
the causes of its collapse. It might serve for a 
pendant of Lamb's criticism of the meat that was 
"ill fed and ill killed, ill kept and ill cooked." The 
Company was started to utilise, in addition to ex- 
ploiting new lands, the waste of time, energy and 



JOHN LAW 143 

capital, between West and East; and yet it was not 
till the first trading fleet was sailing that its ob- 
jective was made known to the adventurers. Its 
ideas of trading were those of a burlesque, and its 
materials of barter with tropical savages on the 
criminal side of the ludicrous — bibles, heavy 
woollen stuffs and periwigs! Naturally a couple 
of years finished its working existence and "The 
rest is silence." And yet at the inception of the 
scheme two great nations vied with one another for 
its control. 

There are those who may say that John Law was 
not an impostor, but a great financier who made a 
mistake. Financiers must not make mistakes — or 
else they must be classed amongst the impostors; 
for they deal with the goods and prospects of 
others as well as their own. Law was simply a 
gambler on a great scale. He led a nation, 
through its units, to believe that the following of 
his ideas would lead to success. Financial schemes 
without good ideas and practical working to carry 
them out are deceptive and destructive. The Mis- 
sissippi Scheme is a case in point. If the original 
intention had been carried out in its entirety — which 
involved vast pioneering and executive action of 
present and future generations, and an almost ab- 
solute foregoing of immediate benefits — the result 
would have been of immense service to the successors 
in title of the original ventures. The assessable 
value of the real estate conveyed under the Mis- 



144 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

sissippi Scheme to-day equals more than a third of 
the present gigantic National Debt of France, 
swollen though the latter is by the Napoleonic wars, 
the war with Austria, the cost and indemnity of the 
war with Germany, and, in addition, by the long 
wars with England and Russia. 

If human beings had been angels, content with 
the prospect of gains in the distant future. Law's 
schemes might have succeeded. As it was, he, 
working for his own purposes with an imperfect 
humanity, can only be judged by results. 



V. WITCHCRAFT AND 
CLAIRVOYANCE 



WITCHCRAFT AND CLAIRVOYANCE 

A. THE PERIOD 

FOR convenience, the masculine offender is 
in demonology classed under the female 
designation. According to Michelet and 
other authorities there were ten thousand alleged 
witches for each alleged wizard! and anyhow there 
is little etiquette as to the precedence of ladies in 
criminal matters. 

The first English Statute dealing directly with 
witches appears to be the thirty-third of Henry 
VIII (1541) which brought into the list of fel- 
onies persons "devising or practising conjurations, 
witchcraftes, sorcerie or inchantments or the dig- 
ging up of corpses," and depriving such of the 
benefit of clergy. It was however repealed by 
I Edward VI Cap. 12, and again by I Mary (in 
its first section.). Queen Elizabeth, however, 
passed another Act (5 Elizabeth Cap. 16) prac- 
tically repeating that of her father, which had been 
in abeyance for more than thirty years. The Stat- 
ute of Elizabeth is exceedingly interesting in that 
it states the condition of the law at that time. The 
opening words leave no misunderstanding : 

"Whereas at this day there is no ordinary nor condigne pun- 
ishment provided against the wicked offences of conjurations 

147 



148 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

or invocations of evil spirits, or of sorceries, inchantments, 
charmes or witchcraftes, which be practised to the obstruction 
of the persons and goods of the Queene's subjects, or for 
other lewd purposes. Be it enacted that if any person or 
persons after the first day of June next coming, shall use prac- 
tice, or exercise any invocations, or conjurations, of evill or 
wicked spirits, to or for any intent or purpose, or else if any 
person or persons after the said first day of June shal use, 
practice or exercise any witchcraft, enchantment, charme or 
sorcerie, whereby any person shall happen to be killed or de- 
stroied, that then as well every such offendour or offendours 
in invocations, or conjurations, as is aforesayde, their aydours 
and counsellors, as also everie such oifendour or offendours in 
that Witchcrafte, enchantment, charme or sorcerie whereby the 
death of any person doth ensue, their ayders and counsellors, 
being of eyther of the sayde offences lawfully convicted and 
attainted, shall suffer paines of death, as a felon or felons, 
and shall lose the privilege and benefit of Clergy and sanctu- 
ary," &c. 

In this act lesser penalties are imposed for using 
any form of witchcraft or sorcery, for inducing to 
any persons harm, or to "provoke any person to 
unlawfull love or to hurt or destroy any person in 
his or her bodye, member or goods," or for the dis- 
covery or recovery of treasure. From that time 
down to the first quarter of the eighteenth century, 
when the law practically died out, witchcraft had 
its place in the category of legal offences. The 
law was finally repealed by an Act in the tenth year 
of George II. The sixteenth and seventeenth cen- 
turies were the time of witch-fever, and in that 
period, especially in its earlier days when the belief 



WITCHCRAFT 149 

had become epidemic, it was ruthless and destruc- 
tive. It is said that in Genoa five hundred persons 
were burned within three months in the year 1515, 
and a thousand in the diocese of Como in a year. 
Round numbers in such matters are to be distrusted, 
as we find they seldom bear investigation ; but there 
is little doubt that in France and Germany vast 
numbers suffered and perished. Even in more pro- 
saic and less emotional England there were many 
thousands of judicial murders in this wise. It is 
asserted that within two centuries they totalled 
thirty thousand. 

It is startling to find such a weird and impossible 
credulity actually rooted in the Statute book of 
one's own country, and that there are records of 
judges charging juries to convict. Sir Matthew 
Hale, a great lawyer, a judge of the Common Pleas 
in 1654, and Lord Chief Justice in 1671, was a firm 
believer in witchcraft. He was a grave and pious 
man, and all his life was an ardent student of the- 
ology as well as of law. And yet in 1664 he sen- 
tenced women to be burned as witches. In 1716 
a mother and daughter — the latter only nine years 
of age — were hanged in Huntingdon. In Scot- 
land the last case of a woman being condemned as 
a witch occurred at Dornoch in 1722. 

It is no easy task in these days, which are ration- 
alistic, iconoclastic and enquiring, to understand 
how the commonalty not only believed in witchcraft 
but acted on that belief. Probably the most tol- 



150 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

erant view we can take, is that both reason and 
enquiry are essential and rudimentary principles of 
human nature. Every person of normal faculties 
likes to know and understand the reasons of things ; 
and inquisitiveness is not posterior to the period of 
maternal alimentation. If we seek for a cause we 
are bound to find one — even if it be wrong. Omne 
ignotum pro magnifico has a wide if not always a 
generous meaning; and when fear is founded on, 
if not inspired by ignorance, that unthinking feroc- 
ity which is one of our birthrights from Adam is 
apt to carry us further than we ever meant to go. 
In an age more clear-seeing than our own and less 
selfish we shall not think so poorly of primitive 
emotions as we are at present apt to. On the con- 
trary we shall begin to understand that in times 
when primitivity holds sway, we are most in touch 
with the loftiest things we are capable of under- 
standing, and our judgment, being complex, is 
most exact. Indeed in this branch of the subject 
persons used to call to aid a special exercise of our 
natural forces — the aesthetic. When witchcraft was 
a belief, the common idea was that that noxious 
power was almost entirely held by the old and ugly. 
The young, fresh, and beautiful, were seldom ac- 
cepted as witches save by the novelty-loving few 
or those of sensual nature. This was perhaps for- 
tunate — if the keeping down of the population in 
this wise was necessary; it is easier as well as safer 
to murder the uncomely than those of greater 



WITCHCRAFT 151 

charm. In any case there was no compunction 
about obliterating the former class. The general 
feeling was much the same as that in our own time 
which in sporting circles calls for the destruction 
of vermin. 

It will thus be seen that the profession of witch- 
craft, if occasionally lucrative, was nevertheless 
always accompanied with danger and execration. 
This was natural enough since the belief which made 
witchcraft dangerous was based on fear. It is not 
too much to say that in every case, professed witch- 
craft was an expression of fraudulent intent. 
Such pity, therefore, as the subject allows of must 
be confined to the guiltless victims who, despite 
blameless life, were tried by passion, judged by 
frenzy, and executed by remorseless desperation. 
There could be no such thing as quantitative analy- 
sis of guilt with regard to the practice of witch- 
craft: any kind of playing with the subject was 
a proof of some kind of wrongful intent, and was 
to be judged with Draconian severity. Doubtless 
it was a very simple way of dealing with evils, much 
resembling the medical philosophy of the Chinese. 
The whole logic of it can be reduced to a sorites. 
Any change from the normal is the work of 
the devil — or a devil as the case may be. Find 
out the normal residence of that especial devil 
— which is in some human being. Destroy the 
devil's dwelling. You get rid of the devil. It 
is pure savagery of the most primitive kind. And 



152 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

it is capable of expansion, for logic is a fertile plant, 
and when its premises are wrong it has the fecun- 
dity of a weed. 'Before even a savage can have 
time to breathe, his logic is piling so fast on him 
that he is smothered. If a human being is a devil 
then the club which destroys him or her is an incar- 
nation of good, and so a god to be worshipped in 
some form — or at any rate to be regarded with 
esteem, like a sword, or a legal wig, or a steth- 
oscope, or a paint-brush, or a shovel, or a compass, 
or a drinking-vessel, or a pen. If all the neces- 
sary conditions of life and sanity and comfort were 
on so primitive a base, what an easy world it would 
be to live in! 

One benefit there was in witchcraft, though it 
was not recognised officially as such at the time. 
It created a new industry — a whole crop of indus- 
tries. It is of the nature of belief that it encour- 
ages belief — not always of exactly the same kind — 
but of some form which intelligence can turn into 
profit. We cannot find any good in the new in- 
dustry — grapes do not grow on thorns nor figs on 
thistles. The sum of human happiness was in no 
sense augmented ; but at least a good deal of money 
or money's worth changed hands; which, after all, 
is as much as most of the great financiers can point 
to as the result of long and strenuous success. In 
the organisation of this form of crime there were 
many classes, of varying risks and of benefits in 
inverse ratio to them. For the ordinary rule of 



WITCHCRAFT 153 

finance holds even here: large interest means bad 
security. First there were the adventurers them- 
selves who took the great risks of life and its 
collaterals — esteem, happiness, &c. The money ob- 
tained by this class was usually secured by fraudu- 
lent sales of worthless goods or by the simple old 
financial device of blackmail. Then there were 
those who were in reality merely parasites on the 
pleasing calling — those timorous souls who let " 'I 
dare not' wait upon 'I would' like the poor cat i' 
the adage." These were altogether in a poorer way 
of trade than their bolder brothers and sisters. 
They lacked courage, and sometimes even sufficient 
malice for the proper doing of their work ; with the 
result that success seldom attended them at all, and 
never heartily. But at any rate they could not 
complain of inadequate punishment; whenever re- 
ligious zeal flamed up they were generally promi- 
nent victims. They can in reality only be regarded 
as specimens of parasitic growth. Then there 
came the class known in French criminal circles as 
agents provocateurs, whose business was not only 
to further ostensible crime but to work up the oppo- 
sition against it. Either branch of their art would 
probably be inadequate; but by finking their serv- 
ices they managed to eke out a livelihood. Lastly 
there was the lowest grade of all, the Witch-finder 
— a loathly calling, comparable only to the class or 
guild of "paraskistae" or "rippers" in the ritual 
of the Mummy industry of ancient Egypt. 



154 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Of these classes we may I think consider some 
choice specimens — so far as we may fittingly inves- 
tigate the personnel of a by-gone industry. Of 
the main body, that of Wizards and Witches or 
those pretending to the cult, let us take Doctor 
Dee and Madame Voisin, and Sir Edward Kelley 
and Mother Damnable — thus representing the 
method of the procession of the unclean animals 
from the Ark. Of the class of Witchfinders one 
example will probably be as much as we can stand, 
and we will naturally take the one who obtained 
fame in his calling — namely Matthew Hopkins, 
who stands forth like Satan, "by merit raised to that 
bad eminence." 



B. DOCTOR DEE 

EVEN a brief survey of the life of the cele- 
brated "Doctor Dee," the so-called "Wiz- 
ard" of the sixteenth century, will leave 
any honest reader under the impression that in 
the perspective of history he was a much maligned 
man. If it had not been that now and again he 
was led into crooked bye-paths of alleged occult- 
ism, his record might have stood out as that of one 
of the most accomplished and sincere of the scien- 
tists of his time. He was in truth, whatever were 
his faults, more sinned against than sinning. If 
the English language is not so elastic as some oth- 
ers in the matter of meaning of phrases, the same 
or a greater effect can be obtained by a careful use 
of the various dialects of the British Empire. In 
the present case we may, if English lacks, well call 
on some of the varieties of Scotch terminology. 
The intellectual status of the prime wizard, as he 
is held to be in general opinion, can be well indi- 
cated by any of the following words or phrases 
"wanting," "crank," "a tile off," "a wee bit saft," 
"a bee in his bonnet." Each of these is indicative 
of some form of monomania, generally harmless. 
If John Dee had not had some great qualities, such 

155 



156 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

negative weaknesses would have prevented his rep- 
utation ever achieving a permanent place in history 
of any kind. As it is his place was won by many 
accomplished facts. The following is a broad out- 
line of his life, which was a long one lasting for 
over eighty years. 

John Dee was born in 1527, and came of a Welsh 
race. A good many years after his start in life 
he, after the harmless fashion of those (and other) 
times, made out a family tree in which it was shewn 
that he was descended from, among other royalties, 
Roderick the Great, Prince of Wales. This little 
effort of vanity did not, however, change anything. 
The world cared then about such things almost as 
little as it does now; or, allowing for the weakness 
of human beings in the way of their own self- 
importance, it might be better to say as it professes 
to do now. John Dee was sent to the University 
of Cambridge when he was only fifteen years old. 
The College chosen for him was St. John's, and 
here he showed extraordinary application in his 
chosen subject, mathematics. He took his proba- 
tionary degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1545, and 
was made a Fellow in 1546. In his early years of 
College life his work was regulated in a remark- 
able way. Out of the twenty-four hours, eighteen 
were devoted to study, four to sleep, the remaining 
two being set apart for meals and recreation. Lest 
this should seem incredible it may be remembered 
that three hundred years later, the French Jesuits, 



WITCHCRAFT 157 

having made exhaustive experiments, arrived at 
the conclusion that for mere purposes of health, 
without making any allowance for the joy or hap- 
piness of life, and treating the body merely as a 
machine from which the utmost amount of work 
mental and physical could be got without injury, 
four hours of sleep per diem sufficed for health and 
sanity. And it is only natural that a healthy and 
ambitious young man trying to work his way to 
success would, or might have been, equally stren- 
uous and self-denying. His appointment as Fel- 
low of St. John's was one of those made when the 
College was founded. That he was skilled in other 
branches of learning was shown by the fact that 
in the University he was appointed as Under 
Reader in Greek. He was daring in the practical 
application of science, and during the representa- 
tion of one of the comedies of Aristophanes, cre- 
ated such a sensation by appearing to fly, that he 
began to be credited by his companions with mag- 
ical powers. This was probably the beginning of 
the sinister reputation which seemed to follow him 
all his life afterwards. When once an idea of the 
kind has been started even the simplest facts of life 
and work seem to gather round it and enlarge it 
indefinitely. So far as we can judge after a lapse 
of over three hundred years, John Dee was an eager 
and ardent seeker after knowledge ; and all through 
his life he travelled in the search wherever he was 
likely to gain his object. It is a main difficulty of 



158 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

following such a record that we have only facts to 
follow. We know little or nothing of motives ex- 
cept from results, and as in the development of 
knowledge the measure of success can only bear 
a small ratio to that of endeavour, it is manifest 
that we should show a large and tolerant under- 
standing of the motives which animate the seeker 
for truth. In the course of his long life John Dee 
visited many lands, sojourned in many centres of 
learning, had relations of common interests as well 
as of friendship with many great scholars, and 
made as thinker, mathematician, and astronomer, 
a reputation far transcending any ephemeral and 
purely gaseous publicity arising from the open- 
mouthed wonder of the silly folk who are not cap- 
able of even trying to understand things beyond 
their immediate ken. Wherever he went he seems 
to have been in touch with the learned and pro- 
gressive men of his time, and always a student. 
At various times he was in the Low Countries, 
Louvain (from whose University he obtained the 
degree of LL.D.), Paris, Wurtemberg, Antwerp, 
Presburg, Lorraine, Frankfort-on-the-Oder, Bo- 
hemia, Cracow, Prague, and Hesse- Cassel. He 
even went so far afield as St. Helena. He was 
engaged on some great works of more than national 
importance. For instance, when in 1582, Pope 
Gregory XIII instituted the reform of the Cal- 
endar which was adopted by most of the great na- 
tions of the world, Dee approved and worked out 



WITCHCRAFT 159 

his own calculations to an almost similar conclusion, 
though the then opposition to him cost England 
a delay of over one hundred and seventy years. In 
1572 he had proved his excellence as an astronomer 
in his valuable work in relation to a newly dis- 
covered star (Tycho Brahe's) in Cassiopceia. In 
1580 he made a complete geographical and hydro- 
graphical map of the Queen's possessions. He 
tried — but unhappily in vain — to get Queen Mary 
to gather the vast collections of manuscripts and old 
books which had been made in the Monasteries 
(broken up by Henry VIII) of which the major 
part were then to be obtained both easily and 
cheaply. He was a Doctor of Laws (which by the 
way was his only claim to be called "Doctor" Dee, 
the title generally accorded to him) . He was made 
a rector in Worcestershire in 1553; and in 1556, 
Archbishop Parker gave him ten years' use of the 
livings of Upton and Long Leadenham. He was 
made Warden of Manchester College in 1595, and 
was named by Queen Elizabeth as Chancellor of 
St. Paul's. In 1564, he was appointed Dean of 
Gloucester, though through his own neglect of his 
own interest it was never carried out. The Queen 
approved, the Archbishop sealed the deed ; but Dee, 
unmindful, overlooked the formality of acceptance 
and the gift eventually went elsewhere. Queen 
Elizabeth, who consistently believed in and admired 
him, wanted to make him a bishop, but he declined 
the responsibility. For once the formality at con- 



160 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

secration: "Nolo Episcopari" was spoken with 
truthful lips. More than once he was despatched 
to foreign places to make special report in the 
Queen's service. That he did not — always, at all 
events — put private interest before public duty is 
shown by his refusal to accept two rectories offered 
to him by the Queen in 1576, urging as an excuse 
that he was unable to find time for the necessary 
duties, since he was too busily occupied in making 
calculations for the reformation of the Calendar. 
He seems to have lived a most proper life, and 
was twice married. After a long struggle with 
adversity in which — last despair of a scholar — he 
had to sell his books, he died very poor, just as he 
was preparing to migrate. At his death in 1608 
he left behind him no less than seventy-nine works 
— nearly one for each year of his life. Just after 
the time of the Armada, following on some cor- 
respondence with Queen Elizabeth, he had returned 
to England after long and adventurous experi- 
ences in Poland and elsewhere, during which he had 
known what it was to receive the honours and 
affronts of communities. He took back with him 
the reputation of being a sorcerer, one which he 
had never courted and which so rankled in him that 
many years afterwards he petitioned James I to 
have him tried so that he might clear his character. 
If there be any truth whatever in the theory that 
men have attendant spirits, bad as well as good, 
Dr. Dee's bad spirit took the shape of one who 



WITCHCRAFT 161 

pretended to occult knowledge, the so-called Sir 
Edward Kelley of whom we shall have something to 
say later on. 

Dee was fifty-four years of age when he met 
Sir Edward Kelley who was twenty-eight years 
his junior. The two men became friends, and then 
the old visionary scholar at once became dominated 
by his younger and less scrupulous companion, who 
very soon became his partner. From that time 
Dee's down-fall — or rather down-slide began. All 
the longings after occult belief which he had 
hitherto tried to hold in check began not only to 
manifest themselves, but to find expression. His 
science became merged in alchemy, his astronomical 
learning was forced into the service of Astrology. 
His belief, which he as a cleric held before him as 
a duty, was lost in spiritualism and other forms of 
occultism. He began to make use for practical 
purposes of his crystal globe and his magic mirror 
in which he probably had for long believed secretly. 
Kelley practically ruined his reputation by using 
for his own purposes the influence which he had 
over the old man. His opportunities were in- 
creased by the arrival in England of Laski, about 
1583. The two scholars had many ideas in com- 
mon, and Kelley did not fail, in the furtherance of 
his own views, to take advantage of the circum- 
stance. He persuaded Dee to go with his new 
friend to Poland, in the hope of benefiting 
further in his studies in the occult by wider 



162 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

experience of foreign centres of learning. They 
journeyed to Laskoe near Cracow, where the 
weakness of the English scholar became more 
evident and his form of madness more de- 
veloped. Dee had now a fixed belief in two 
ideas which he had hitherto failed to material- 
ise — the Philosopher's Stone and the Elixir of Life, 
both of them dreams held as possible of realisation 
to the scientific dreamer in the period of the Renais- 
sance. Dee believed at one time that he had got 
hold of the Philosopher's Stone, and actually sent 
to Queen Elizabeth a piece of gold taken from a 
transmuted warming-pan. As it is said in the life 
of Dee that he and Kelley had found a quantity 
of the Elixir of Life in the ruins of Glastonbury 
Abbey, we can easily imagine what part the latter 
had in the transaction. It was he, too, who prob- 
ably fixed on Glastonbury as the place in which to 
search for Elixirs, as that holy spot had already 
a reputation of its own in such matters. It has 
been held for ages that the staff used by Joseph 
of Arimathea took root and blossomed there. 
Somehow, whatever the Glastonbury Elixir did, the 
Philosopher's Stone did not seem to keep its alleged 
properties in the Dee family. John Dee's young 
son Arthur, aged eight, tried its efficacy; but with- 
out success. Perhaps it was this failure which made 
Kelley more exacting, for a couple of years later 
in 1589, he told his partner that angels had told 
him it was the divine wish that they should have 



WITCHCRAFT 163 

their wives in common. The sage, who was fond 
of his wife — who was a comely woman, whereas 
Kelley's was ill favoured and devoid of charms — 
naturally demurred at such an utterance even of 
occult spirits. Mrs. Dee also objected, with the 
result that there were alarums and excursions and 
the partnership was rudely dissolved — which is a 
proof that though the aged philosopher's mind had 
been vitiated by the evil promptings of his wily 
companion he had not quite declined to idiocy. 



C. LA VOISIN 

IN Paris a woman named Des Hayes Voisin, 
a widow who had taken up the business of a 
midwife, towards the end of the seventeenth 
century made herself notorious by the telling of 
fortunes. Such at least was the manifest occu- 
pation of the worthy lady, and as she did not flaunt 
herself unduly, her existence was rather a retired 
one. Few who did not seek her services knew of 
her existence, fewer still of her residence. The 
life of a professor of such mysteries as the doings 
of Fate — so-called — is prolonged and sweetened by 
seclusion. But there is always an "underground" 
way of obtaining information for such as really 
desire it; and Madame Voisin, for all her evasive 
retirement, was always to be found when wanted — 
which means when she herself wanted to be found. 
She was certainly a marvellous prophet, within a 
certain range of that occult art. Like all clever 
people she fixed limitations for herself; which was 
wise of her, for to prophesy on behalf of every one 
who may yearn for a raising of the curtain, be it 
of never so small a corner, on all possible subjects, 
is to usurp the general functions of the Almighty. 
Wisely therefore, Madame Voisin became a special- 

164 



WITCHCRAFT 165 

ist. Her subject was husbands; her chief theme 
their longevity. Naturally such women as were 
unsatisfied with the personality, circumstances, or 
fortunes of their partners, joined the mass of her 
clientele, a mass which taking it "bye and large" 
maintained a strange exactness of dimensions. 
This did not much trouble the public, or even the 
body of her clients, for no one except Madame 
herself knew their numbers. It was certainly a 
strange thing how accurately Madame guessed, for 
she had seemingly no data to go on — the longevity 
of the husbands were never taken into the confidence 
of the prophet. She took care to keep almost to 
herself the rare good fortune, in a sense, which at- 
tended her divination ; for ever since the misfortune 
which had attended the late Marquise de Brinvil- 
liers became public, the powers of the law had taken 
a quite unnecessary interest in the proceedings of 
all of her cult. Longevity is quite a one-sided ar- 
rangement of nature ; we can only be sure of its ac- 
curacy when it is too late to help in its accomplish- 
ment. In such a game there is only one throw of 
the dice, so that it behoves anyone who would wager 
successfully to be very sure that the chances are in 
his — or her — favour. 

Madame Voisin's clients were generally in a 
hurry, and so were willing to take any little trouble 
or responsibility necessary to ensure success. They 
had two qualities which endear customers to those 
of La Voisin's trade; they were grateful and they 



166 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

were silent. That they were of cheery and hopeful 
spirit was shown by the fact that as a rule they 
married again soon after the dark cloud of bereave- 
ment had fallen on them. When the funeral baked 
meats have coldly furnished forth the marriage 
tables, it is better to remain as inconspicuous as pos- 
sible; friends and onlookers will take notice, and, 
when they notice, they will talk. Moreover the 
new partner is often suspicious and apt to be 
a little jealous of his predecessor in title. Thus, 
Madame Voisin being clever and discreet, and 
her clients being — or at any rate appearing to 
be — happy in their new relations and silent to 
the world at large, all went prosperously with 
the kindly-hearted prophet. No trouble rose as 
to testamentary dispositions. Men who are the 
subjects of prophecy have usually excellently- 
drawn wills. This is especially the case with 
husbands who are no longer young. Young 
husbands are as a rule not made the subjects 
of prophecy. 

Madame Voisin's great accuracy of prediction 
did not excite at the time so much public admiration 
as it might have done if she or her clients had taken 
the public more into their confidence; but it was 
noted afterwards that in most cases the male indi- 
vidual who retired early from the scene was the 
senior partner in that congeries of three which has 
come to be known as "the eternal triangle." In 
later conversations, following in the wake of the 



WITCHCRAFT 167 

completed prophecy, confidences were exchanged 
as to the studies in certain matters of science in 
which Madame Voisin seemed to have attained a 
rare proficiency. 

The late Mr. Charles Peace, an adventurous if 
acquisitive spirit, who gave up his life in the same 
manner as the deceased Mr. Haman, worked alone 
during the long period of his professional existence, 
and with misleading safety. The illustrious French 
lady-prophet unwisely did not value this form of 
security, and so multiplied opportunities of failure. 
She followed an entirely opposite policy, one which 
though it doubtless stood by her on many occasions 
had a fatal weakness. In some^ways it may facili- 
tate matters if one is one's own Providence ; such a 
course avoids temporarily errors of miscalculation 
or deduction of probable results. And just as the 
roulette table has certain chances in favour of Zero, 
there is for the practical prophet a large hazard 
in that the dead are unable to speak or to renew 
effort on a more favourable basis. La Voisin, prob- 
ably through some unfavourable or threatening ex- 
periences, saw the wisdom of associating the forces 
of prediction and accomplishment, and with the 
readiness of an active personality effected the junc- 
tion. For this she was already fairly well equipped 
with experiences. Both as a wife and a lover of 
warm and voluptuous nature she understood some- 
thing of the passions of humanity, on both the 
female and the male side; and being a woman she 



168 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

knew perhaps better of the two the potency of fem- 
inine longing. This did not act so strongly in the 
lesser and more directly commercial, if less uncer- 
tain, phases of her art, such as finding lost prop- 
erty, divining the result of hazards, effecting 
immunity from danger, or the preserving indefi- 
nitely the more pleasing qualities of youth. But 
in sterner matters, when the issue was of life or 
death, the masculine tendency towards recklessness 
kicked the beam. As a nurse in active touch with 
both medical and surgical wants, aims, and achieve- 
ments, she was at ease in the larger risks of daily 
life. And after all, her own ambitions, aided by 
the compelling of her own natural demands for 
physical luxury, were quite independent, only seek- 
ing through exiguous means a way of achievement. 
In secret she studied the mystery of a toxicologist ; 
and, probably by cautious experiment, satisfied her- 
self of her proficiency in that little-known science. 
That she had other aims, more or less dependent 
on this or the feelings which its knowledge super- 
induced, can be satisfactorily guessed from some 
of her attendant labours which declared themselves 
later. 

After a time La Voisin's vogue as a sorceress 
brought her into certain high society where free- 
dom of action was unhampered by moral restraints. 
The very rich, the leaders of society and fashion 
of the time, the unscrupulous whose ambitious 
efforts had been crowned with success of a kind, 



WITCHCRAFT 169 

leaders of Court life, those in high military com- 
mand, mistresses of royalty and high aristocracy — 
all became companions and clients in one or more 
of her mysterious arts. Amongst them were the 
Duchesse de Bouillon, the Comtesse de Soissons, 
Madame de Montespan, Olympe de Mancini, Mar- 
shal de Luxembourg, the Due de Vendome, Prince 
de Clermont-Lodeve. It was not altogether fash- 
ionable not to be in touch with Madame Voisin. 
Undeterred by the lessons of history, La Voisin 
went on her way, forced as is usual in such cases 
by the circumstances which grow around the crim- 
inal and prove infinitely the stronger. She was at 
the height of her success when the public suspicion, 
followed by action, revealed the terrible crimes of 
the Marquise de Brinvilliers; and she was caught 
in the tail of the tempest thus created. 

This case of Madame de Brinvilliers is a typical 
one of how a human being, goaded by passion and 
lured by opportunity, may fall swiftly from any 
estate. It is so closely in touch with that of 
Madame Voisin that the two have almost to be con- 
sidered together. They began with the desire for 
dabbling in forbidden mysteries. Three men — 
two Italians and one German, all men of some abil- 
ity — were violent searchers for the mythical "phi- 
losopher's stone" which was to fulfil the dream of 
the mediaeval alchemist by turning at will all things 
into gold. In the search they all gravitated to 
Paris. There the usual thing happened. Money 



170 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

ran short and foolish hoping had to be supple- 
mented by crime. In the whirling world of the 
time there was always a ready sale for means to 
an end, however nefarious either might be. The 
easy morality of the time allowed opportunity for 
all means, with the result that there was an almost 
open dealing in poisons. The soubriquet which stole 
into existence — it dared not proclaim itself — is a 
self-explanatory historical lesson. The poudre de 
succession marks an epoch which, for sheer, regard- 
less, remorseless, profligate wickedness is almost 
without peer in history, and this is said without 
forgetting the time of the Borgias. Not even nat- 
ural affection or family life or individual relation- 
ship or friendliness was afforded any consideration. 
This phase of crime, which was one almost con- 
fined to the upper and wealthier classes, depended 
on wealth and laws of heredity and entail. Those 
who benefited by it salved what remnants of con- 
science still remained to them with the thought 
that they were but helping the natural process of 
waste and recuperation. The old and feeble were 
removed, with as little coil as might be necessary, 
in order that the young and lusty might benefit. 
As the change was a form of plunder, which had 
to be paid for in a degree in some way approximate 
to results, prices ran high. Poisoning on a success- 
ful scale requires skilful and daring agents, whose 
after secrecy as well as whose present aid has to 
be secured. Exili and Glasser — one of the Italians 



WITCHCRAFT 171 

and the German — did a thriving trade. As usual 
in such illicit traffic, the possibility of purchase un- 
der effective conditions made a market. There is 
every reason to believe from after results that La 
Voisin was one such agent. The cause of La Brin- 
villiers entering the market was the purely personal 
one of an affair of sensual passion. Death is an in- 
formative circumstance. Suspicion began to leak 
out that the polyglot firm of needy foreigners had 
dark dealings. Two of them — the Italians — were 
arrested and sent to the Bastille where one of them 
died. By unhappy chance the other was given as 
cell-companion Captain Sainte-Croix, who was a 
lover of the Marquise de Brinvilliers. Sainte- 
Croix as a Captain in the regiment of the Marquis 
had become intimate in his house. Brinvilliers was 
a fatuous person and of imperfect moral vision. 
The Captain was handsome, and Madame la Mar- 
quise amorous. Behold then all the usual personnel 
of a tragedy of three. After a while the intrigue 
became a matter of family concern. The lady's 
father, — the Civil Lieutenant d'Aulroy, procured 
a lettre de cachet, and had the erring lover immured 
in the Bastille as the easiest and least public way 
out of the difficulty. "Evil communications cor- 
rupt good manners," says the proverb. The pro- 
verbial philosopher understated the danger of such 
juxtaposition. Evil manners added corruption 
even to their kind. In the Bastille the exasperated 
lover listened to the wiles of Exili; and another 



172 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

stage of misdoing began. The Marquise deter- 
mined on revenge, and be sure that in such a case 
in such a period even the massive walls of the 
Bastille could not prevent the secret whisper of 
a means of effecting it. D'Aulroy, his two sons, 
and another sister perished. Brinvilliers himself 
was spared through some bizarre freak of his wife's 
conscience. Then the secret began to be whispered 
— first, it was said, through the confessional; and 
the Chambre Ar&ente, analogous to the British Star 
Chamber, instituted for such purposes, took the case 
in hand. The result might have been doubtful, for 
great social forces were at work to hush up such 
a scandal, but that, with a truly seventeenth century 
candour, the prisoner had written an elaborate con- 
fession of her guilt, which if it did not directly 
assure condemnation at least put justice on the right 
track. 

The trial was a celebrated one, and involved inci- 
dentally many illustrious persons as well as others 
of lesser note. In the end, in 1676, Madame la 
Marquise de Brinvilliers was burned — that is, what 
was left of her was burned after her head had been 
cut off, a matter of grace in consideration of her 
rank. It is soothing to the feelings of many rela- 
tives and friends — not to mention those of the prin- 
cipal — in such a case when "great command o'er- 
sways the order" of purgation by fire. 

Before the eddy of the Brinvilliers' criminal 
scandal reached to the lower level of Madame 



WITCHCRAFT 173 

Voisin, a good many scandals were aired; though 
again "great command" seems to have been opera- 
tive, so far as human power availed, in minimising 
both scandals and punishments. Amongst those 
cited to the Ghambre Ardente were two nieces of 
Cardinal Mazarin, the Duchesse de Bouillon, the 
Comtesse de Soissons, and Marshal de Luxem- 
bourg. In some of these cases that which in the- 
atrical parlance is called "comic relief" was not 
wanting. It was a witty if impertinent answer of 
the Duchesse de Bouillon to one of her judges, 
La Reyne, an ill-favoured man, who asked, apropos 
of a statement made at the trial that she had taken 
part in an alleged invocation of Beelzebub, "and 
did you ever see the Devil?" — 

"Yes, I am looking at him now. He is ugly, 
and is disguised as a Councillor of State!" 

The King, Louis XIV, took much interest in 
the trial and even tried now and again to smooth 
matters. He even went so far as to advise the 
Comtesse de Soissons who was treated by the Court 
rather as a foolish than a guilty woman, to keep 
out of the way if she were really guilty. In an- 
swer she said with the haughtiness of her time that 
though she was innocent she did not care to appear 
in a Law Court. She withdrew to Brussels where 
she died some twenty years later. Marshal de 
Luxembourg — Francois Henri de Montmorenci- 
Boutteville, duke, peer, Marshal of France to give 
his full titles — was shown to have engaged in an 



174 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

attempt to recover lost property by occult means. 
On which basis and for having once asked Madame 
Voisin to produce his Satanic Majesty, he was 
alleged to have sold himself to the Devil. But his 
occult adventures did not stand in the way of his 
promotion as a soldier though he had to stand a 
trial of over a year long; he was made Captain 
of the Guard and finally given command of the 
Army. 

La Voisin with her accomplices — a woman named 
Vigoureux and Le Sage, a priest — were with a 
couple of score of others arrested in 1679, and were, 
after a spell of imprisonment in the Bastille, tried. 
As a result Voisin, Vigoureux and her brother, and 
Le Sage were burned early in 1680. In Voisin's 
case the mercy of previous decapitation, which had 
been accorded to her guilty sister Brinvilliers, was 
not extended to her. Perhaps this was partly be- 
cause of the attitude which she had taken up with 
regard to religious matters. Amongst other unfor- 
givable acts she had repelled the Crucifix — a ter- 
rible thing to do according to the ideas of that 
superstitious age. 



D. SIR EDWARD KELLEY 

CARLYLE in his French Revolution makes 
a contrast between two works of imagina- 
tion which mark the extremes of the forces 
that made for the disruption of France, Paul et 
Virginie and Le Chevalier de Faublas. The for- 
mer he calls "the swan-song of old dying France"; 
of the latter he says "if this wretched Faublas is 
a death-speech, it is one under the gallows, and by 
a felon that does not repent." This double anal- 
ogy may well serve for a comparison of Dr. Dee 
and the man who was at once his partner for a 
time, and his evil genius. The grave earnest old 
scholar, with instincts for good, high endeavour, 
and a vast intellectual strength, contrasts well with 
the mean-souled shifty specious rogue who fas- 
tened himself on him and leech-like drained him 
"dry as hay." 

Such historians as mention the existence of the 
latter are even a little doubtful how to spell his 
name. This, however, does not matter much — nay, 
at all, for it is probably not that to which he was 
born. Briefly the following is his record as far as 
can be discovered. He was born in 1555 to parents 
living in Worcester, who having tried to bring him 

175 



176 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

up as an apothecary, sent him to Oxford when he 
was seventeen years of age. There he was entered 
at Gloucester Hall, under the name of Talbot. As 
however three men of that name were in the Hall 
at the same time, it is doubtful what family can 
claim the honour of his kinship. His college life 
was short — only lasting a year — and inconspicuous. 
"He left," we are told, "abruptly." Then, as if to 
complete the purely educational phase of his exist- 
ence, he was for a while an attorney, eking out the 
tenuity of his legal practice by aid of forgery. 
Thus full-fledged for his work in life, he made his 
first properly-recorded appearance in the pillory in 
1580, for an offence which is variously spoken of 
as forgery and coining. At any rate his ears were 
cropped off, a loss which necessitated for pruden- 
tial reasons his wearing a skullcap for the remainder 
of his days. This he wore with such conspicuous 
success that it is said that even Doctor Dee, who 
was his partner for nearly seven years, did not 
know of his mutilation. Kelley's next recorded 
offence was one which in a later age when subjects 
for dissection (necessary for purposes of education 
in anatomy) were difficult to obtain, was popularly 
known as "body-snatching." The commission of 
this offence though a serious breach of the law, came 
to be regarded as a necessary condition of study; 
and even if punishment was meted out, it was not 
looked upon as dishonour. But in Kelley's case 
the offence was committed not for the purpose of 



WITCHCRAFT 177 

scientific education but for one of sorcery. It took 
place in Walton-le-dale in Lancashire, where Kel- 
ley dug up a body buried on the previous day, for 
purposes of necromancy, which, it will be remem- 
bered, was, as the etymology of the word implies, 
divination by means of the dead. 

From this time on, he seemed to see his way clear 
to the final choice of a profession. He had tasted 
crime and punishment, and considered himself well 
qualified to accept the risks as well as the benefits ; 
and so chose fraud as his life work. He was still 
under twenty-five years of age when he began to 
look about him for his next means or occasion of 
turning his special talents to profit. After some 
deliberation he fixed on the existence and qualities 
of the famous (as he had then become) Doctor 
Dee, and carefully commenced operations. He 
called on the mathematician at his house at Mort- 
lake and made his acquaintance. Dee was naturally 
impressed by the conversation and ostensible qual- 
ities of the young man, who had the plausibility 
of the born rogue and laid himself out to captivate 
the old man, more than double his companion's age 
and worn by arduous study. He fostered all 
Dee's natural weaknesses, humoured his fads, was 
enthusiastic regarding his beliefs which he appeared 
to share, and urged on his personal ambitions. The 
belief in occultism which the philosopher cherished 
in secret, though he had openly and formally re- 
pudiated it a dozen years before in his preface to 



178 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Sir Henry Billingsley's translation of Euclid, gave 
the parasitic rogue his cue for further ingratiating 
himself, and before long he entered Dee's service 
at an annual salary of fifty pounds. His special 
function was that of "skryer," which was his own or 
Dee's reading of "seer." His contribution to the 
general result was to see the figures which did — 
or did not — appear in the so-called "magic" crystal, 
an office for which his useful imagination, his un- 
blushing assurance, and his utter unscrupulousness 
eminently fitted him. In fact he was in his designs 
of fraud a perfect complement of the simple- 
minded scientist. Of course as days went on and 
opportunities offered themselves, through Dee's 
growing madness and Kelley's social enlargements, 
the horizon of chicanery widened. This was largely 
assisted by the opportune arrival in England of 
the Palatine Albert Laski in 1583. Laski was just 
the man that Kelley was waiting for. A rich man 
with a taste for occult science; sufficiently learned 
to keep in touch with the theories of occultism of 
that time; sufficiently vain to be used by an unscrup- 
ulous adventurer who tickled his intellectual palate 
whilst he matured his frauds upon him. 

Kelley having worked on Dee's feelings suffi- 
ciently to secure his acquiescence, procured that 
Laski should be allowed to aid in such operations 
and experiments as appealed to him. The result 
was that the Palatine took the two men with him, 
promising a free field for them both, each accord- 



WITCHCRAFT 179 

ing to his bent. At Prague, in 1583, Laski pre- 
sented Dee and his companion to the Emperor 
Rudolph II. Encouraged by the royal approval, 
Dee looked for a longer sojourn in eastern Europe, 
and brought thither his wife and children from 
Poland, where he had left them at Laskoe, the 
seat of the Palatine. Later on, in 1585, — again 
through the influence of the credulous Laski — Dee 
with his companion was presented to Stephen, King 
of Poland. Stephen was much interested, and 
attended a seance that he might see the spirits of 
which he had heard so much. He saw too much, 
however, as far as Kelley was concerned, for he 
penetrated the imposture. Thereupon Kelley, un- 
equal to carrying on the business single-handed, for 
he dared not let Dee's eyes be opened and he knew 
he could not induce him to be other than a blind 
partner, contrived that a new confederate should 
be added to the firm. This was one Francis Pucci, 
a Florentine, possessed of all the address and sub- 
tlety of his race. But after the experience of a 
year he was removed on suspicion of bad faith. 
Before that year was out, the Bishop of Piacenza, 
Apostolic Nuncio at the Emperor's Court, had a 
decree issued that the two Englishmen should quit 
Prague within six days. From Prague they went 
to Erfurt, in Thuringia; but despite letters of rec- 
ommendation from high quarters the Municipal 
Authorities would not allow them to remain. So 
they moved on to Hesse-Cassel and thence to Tri- 



180 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

bau in Bohemia, where the fraud of making spirits 
appear was renewed. In 1586, it was intimated to 
Dee that the Emperor of Russia wished to receive 
him in that country. He would receive a fee of 
two thousand pounds per annum and would be 
treated with honour; but the scholar did not see 
his way to accept the flattering offer. At 
Tribau, Kelley experimented, but unsuccessfully, 
with some powder found at Glastonbury, Dee's 
young son being the medium. It was noticeable 
that whenever Dee or his family failed in these 
experiments, Kelley always succeeded. At this 
stage Kelley, who was a man of evil life, fell madly 
in love with Dee's wife. He was married himself, 
but that did not seem to matter. His own wife was 
ugly and unattractive, whereas the second Mrs. Dee 
was well-favoured and winning. In the madness 
of his lust he tried to work on the husband's credu- 
lity by telling him that it had been conveyed to 
him through angels that it was the Divine wish 
that the two men should hold their wives in com- 
mon. Dee was naturally sceptical and annoyed, 
and his wife was furious. Kelley, however, was 
persistent, and stuck to his point so stedfastly that 
after a while the woman's resolution began to give 
way, and for a time some sort of working arrange- 
ment came about. Kelley's story, as elaborated to 
his partner, was that at Tribau, in 1587, the crystal 
showed him a vision of a naked woman who con- 
veyed to him the divine message. To Dee's un- 



WITCHCRAFT 181 

hinged mind this seemed all natural and correct — 
probably even to the suitable costume adopted by 
the angelic messenger: so the worthy doctor gave 
way. After a time however the matron recovered 
her sanity, and the vulture and the pigeon parted. 
Dee gave up to his late partner all the "tools of 
trade" and "properties" of the fraud, and the two 
never met again. 

Kelley went to Prague where he was thrown into 
prison in 1589. He remained in durance for four 
years after which he was released. From thence 
on till 1595, he became a vagabond as well as a 
rogue, and wandered about Germany. He again 
fell into the hands of Rudolph, to be again impris- 
oned by him. He was killed whilst making a des- 
perate effort to escape. 

There seems to be no record of Edward Kelley — 
or Talbot — having been knighted, no authority 
save his own wish for the use of the title. It may 
of course be possible that he was knighted by the 
Emperor in some moment of absurd credulity ; but 
there is no record of it. He had no children. 



E. MOTHER DAMNABLE 

OWING to a want of accord among his- 
torians, the searcher after historic truth in 
our own day can hardly be quite sure 
of the identity of the worthy lady who passed under 
the above enchanting title. To later generations 
the district of Camden Town — formerly a suburb 
of London but now a fairly central part of it — 
is best known through a public house, the Mother 
Red-Cap. But before controversy can cease we 
are called on to decide if Mother Red-Cap and 
Mother Damnable were one and the same person. 
A hundred years ago a writer who had made such 
subjects his own, came to the conclusion that the 
soubriquet Mother Damnable was synonymous with 
Mother Black-Cap whom he spoke of as of local 
fame. But in the century that has elapsed his- 
torical research has been more scientifically organ- 
ised and the field from which conclusions can be 
drawn has been enlarged as well as explored. The 
fact is that a century ago the northern suburb had 
two well-known public houses, Mother Red-Cap 
and Mother Black-Cap. It is possible that both 
the worthy vintners who offered "entertainment for 
man and beast" meant one and the same person, 

182 



WITCHCRAFT 183 

though who that person was remains to be seen. 
The distinctive colour line of the two hostelries was 
also possibly due to considerations of business 
rather than of art. Red-cap and Black-cap are, as 
names, drawn from these varying sign-boards; the 
term Mother held in common is simply a title given 
without any pretence of doing honour to the alleged 
practices of the person whom it is intended to des- 
ignate. 

There were in fact two notorious witches, either 
of whom might have been in the mind of either 
artistic designer. One was of Yorkshire fame in 
the time of Henry VII. The other was of very 
much later date and of purely local notoriety. The 
two publicans who exploited these identities under 
pictorial garb were open and avowed trade rivals. 
The earlier established of the two had evidently 
commissioned a painter to create a striking sign- 
board on a given subject, and the artist had ful- 
filled his task by an alleged portrait of sufficiently 
fearsome import to fix the attention of the 
passer-by, at the same time conveying to him some 
hint of the calling of the archetype on which her 
fame was based. Prosperity in the venture begot 
rivalry ; and the owner of the new house of refresh- 
ment, wishing to outshine his rival in trade whilst at 
the same time availing himself of the publicity and 
local fame already achieved, commissioned another 
artist to commit another pictorial atrocity under 
the name of art. So far as the purpose of publicity 



184 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

went, the ideas were similar; the only differences 
being in the colour scheme and the measure of 
attractiveness of the alleged prototype. From the 
indications thus given one may form some opinion 
— based solely on probability — as to which was the 
earlier and which the later artistic creation, for it 
is by this means — and this means only — that we 
may after the lapse of at least a century bring tra- 
dition to our aid, and guess at the original of 
Mother Damnable. 

Of the two signs it seems probable that the black 
one is the older. After all, the main purpose of a 
sign-board is to catch the eye, and unless Titian 
and all who followed him are wrong, red has an 
attractive value beyond all other hues. The dictum 
of the great Italian is unassailable: "Red catches 
the eye; yellow holds it; blue gives distance." A 
f ree-souled artist with the choice of the whole palette 
open to him might choose black since historical 
accuracy was a matter to be valued ; but in a ques- 
tion of competition a painter would wisely choose 
red — especially when his rival had confined him- 
self to black. So far as attractiveness is concerned, 
it must be borne in mind that the object of the 
painter and his patron was to bring customers to 
a London suburban public house in the days of 
George III. To-day there is a cult of horrors in 
Paris which has produced some choice specimens 
of decorative art, such for instance as the cafe 
known as Le Rat Mort. 



WITCHCRAFT 185 

Such places lure their customers by curiosity and 
sheer horror ; but the persons lured are from a class 
dominated by "Gallic effervescence" and attracted 
by anything that is bizarre, and not of the class 
of the stolid beer-drinking Briton. But even the 
most stolid of men is pleased by the beauty of a 
woman; so the sign-painter — who knows his art 
well, and has evolved from the ranks of his calling 
such a man as Franz Hals — we may be sure, when 
he wished to please, took for his model some 
gracious personality. 

Now the artist of the lady of dark headgear let 
his imagination run free and produced a face typ- 
ical of all the sins of the Decalogue. We may 
therefore take it on the ground of form as well 
as that of colour that priority of date is to be given 
to Mother Black-Cap. There is good ground 
for belief that this deduction is correct. Naturally 
the owner of the earliest public-house wished to 
make it as attractive as possible; and as Camden 
Town was a suburb through which the northern 
traffic passed on its way to and from London, it 
was wise to use for publicity and entertainment 
names that were familiar to north country ears. 
Before the railways were organised the great 
wheeled and horse-traffic between London and the 
North — especially Yorkshire which was one of the 
first Counties to take up manufacturing and had 
already most of the wool trade — went through 
Camden Town. So it was wise forethought to take 



186 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

as an inn sign a Yorkshire name. The name of 
Mother Shipton had been in men's mouths and ears 
for about two hundred years, and as the times had 
so changed that the old stigma of witchcraft was 
not then understood, the association of the name 
with Knaresborough alone remained. And so 
Mother Shipton of Knaresborough was intended 
as the prototype of the inn portrait with black head- 
gear at Camden Town. In the ordinary course of 
development and business one of the two inns suc- 
ceeded and lasted better than the other. And as 
Mother Red-Cap has as a name supplanted Mother 
Damnable, we may with some understanding dis- 
cuss who that lady was. 

She was a well-known shrew of Kentish Town, 
daughter of one Jacob Bingham, a local brick- 
maker, who had married the daughter of a Scotch 
pedlar manifestly not of any high moral character 
as shown by her later acts and the general mistrust 
which attended them. They had one daughter, 
Jinny, who in wickedness outdid her parents. She 
was naturally warm-blooded and had a child when 
she was sixteen by a man of no account, George 
Coulter, known as Gipsy George. Whatever affec- 
tion may have existed between them was cut short 
by his arrest — and subsequent execution at Tyburn 
— for sheepstealing. In her second quasi-matri- 
monial venture Jinny lived a cat-and-dog life with 
a man called Darby who spent his time in getting 
drunk and trying to get over it. Number Two's 



WITCHCRAFT 187 

end was also tragic. After a violent quarrel with 
his companion he disappeared. Then there was 
domestic calm for a while, possibly due to the fact 
that Bingham and his wife were being tried also 
on a charge of witchcraft, complicated with another 
capital charge of procuring the death of a young 
woman. They were both hanged and thereafter 
Jinny found time for another episode of love-mak- 
ing and took up with a man called Pitcher. He 
too disappeared, but his body, burned almost to a 
cinder, was discovered in a neighbouring oven. 
Jinny was tried for murder, but escaped on the 
plea that the man often took refuge in the oven 
when he wished to get beyond reach of the woman's 
venomous tongue, to which fact witness was borne 
by certain staunch companions of Miss Bingham. 

Jinny's third venture towards happy companion- 
ship, though it lasted much longer, was attended 
with endless bitter quarrelling, and came to an 
equally tragic end, had at the beginning a spice of 
romance. This individual, whose name has seem- 
ingly not been recorded, being pursued in Com- 
monwealth times for some unknown offence, 
had sought her aid in attempting to escape. 
This she had graciously accorded, with the con- 
sequence that they lived together some years 
in the greatest unhappiness. 

At length he died — of poison, but by whom ad- 
ministered did not transpire at the inquest. For 
the rest of her life Miss Bingham, who was now 



188 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

old, lived under the suspicion of being a witch. 
Her ostensible occupation was as a teller of for- 
tunes and a healer of odd diseases — occupations 
which singly or together make neither for personal 
esteem or general confidence. Her public appear- 
ances were usually attended by hounding and bait- 
ing by the rabble; and whenever anything went 
wrong in her neighbourhood the blame was, with 
overt violence of demeanour, attributed to her. 
She did not even receive any of the respect usually 
shown to a freeholder — which she was, having by 
her father's death become owner of a house which 
he had built for himself with his own hands on 
waste ground. Her only protector was that usual 
favourite of witches, a black cat, whose devotion 
to her and whose savage nature, accompanied by 
the public fear shown for an animal which was 
deemed her "familiar," caused the mob to flee be- 
fore its appearance. 

The tragedy and mystery of her life were even 
exceeded by those of her death. When, having 
been missed for some time, her house was entered 
she, attended only by her cat and with her crutch 
by her side, was found crouching beside the cold 
ashes of her extinct fire. In the tea-pot beside her 
was some liquid, seemingly brewed from herbs. 
Willing hands administered some of this to the 
black cat, whose hair, within a very short time, fell 
off. The cat forthwith died. Then the clamour 
began. Very many people suddenly remembered 



WITCHCRAFT 189 

having seen, after her last appearance in public, the 
Devil entering her house. No one, however, had 
seen him come out again. What a pity it was that 
no veracious scribe or draughtsman was present in 
the crowd which had noticed the Devil's entry to 
the house. In such case we might have got a real 
likeness of His Satanic Majesty — a thing which 
has long been wanted — and the opportunities of 
obtaining which are few. 

One peculiar fact is recorded of Madame Dam- 
nable's burial; her body was so stiff from the rigor 
mortis — or from some other cause — that the under- 
takers had to break her limbs before they could 
put her body in the coffin. 



F. MATTHEW HOPKINS 

THERE is one thing more evil than oppres- 
sion in the shape of wrong-doing, and that 
is oppression in the guise of good. Tenny- 
son, in one of his poems, speaks of the dishonest 
pharmacist who "pestles a poison'd poison." This 
is a refinement of iniquity ; a poisoned poison is not 
even an enlargement of evil but a structural 
change eliminating the intention of good and re- 
placing it with evil intent. Witches were quite 
bad enough; or rather they would have been, 
had that which was alleged of them been true. 
But a man who got his living by creating sus- 
picion regarding them and following it out to 
the practical consummation of a hideous death, 
was a thousand times worse. To-day such a 
functionary as a witch-finder exists, it is true; 
but only amongst the very lowest and most 
debased savages. And it is only by the recorded 
types made known to us that it is possible even to 
guess at the iniquity of their measures, the vileness 
of their actions. In the full tally of the two cen- 
turies during which the witch mania existed in 
England, it is impossible to parallel the baseness 
of the one man who distinguished himself in this 

190 



WITCHCRAFT 191 

loathsome occupation. The facts of his history 
speak for themselves. Matthew Hopkins was 
born in Suffolk early in the seventeenth century. 
He was the son of a minister, James Hopkins of 
Wenham. He was brought up for the law, and 
when enrolled as an attorney, practised in Ipswich; 
but after a while he moved to Manningtree where, 
after he had given up the law, he took to the calling 
of witch-finder, being the first person in England 
to follow that honourable trade. 

If he had had no suitable opportunities of 
earning an honest livelihood and been graced 
with no education, some excuse might have been 
offered for his despicable calling. But when 
we remember that he passed his youth in a 
household practising religion, and was a mem- 
ber of a learned profession, it is difficult to find 
words sufficiently comprehensive for the fit ex- 
pression of our natural indignation against him. 
If picturesque profanity were allowable, it might 
be well applied to this despicable wretch and his 
nefarious labours. In no imaginable circumstances 
could there possibly be anything to be said in miti- 
gation of his infamy. When we think that the 
whole ritual of oppression was in his own hands — 
that he began with lying and perjury, and ended 
with murder; that he showed, throughout, ruthless 
callousness for the mental and physical torture of 
great numbers of the most helpless class of the 
community, the poor, the weak, the suffering, the 



192 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

helpless and hopeless; that when once his foul im- 
agination had consecrated any poor wretch to de- 
struction, or his baleful glance had unhappily 
lighted on some unsuspecting victim there was for 
such only the refuge of death, and that by some 
means of prolonged torture, we cannot find any 
hope or prospect even in evil dreams of the nether 
world, of any adequate punishment for his dread- 
ful sins. When we remember that this one man — 
if man he can be called — was in himself responsible 
for what amounted to the murder of some two hun- 
dred women whom he pursued to the death, the 
magnitude of his guilt can be guessed but not 
realised. 

He occupied three whole years in his fell 
work; and in those years, 1644, 1645 and 1646, he 
caused a regular reign of terror throughout the 
counties of Huntingdon, Norfolk, Suffolk and Es- 
sex. He had a gang of his own to help him in his 
gruesome work of "discovering" witches; amongst 
whom was a wretch called John Stern and — to 
her shame — a woman, whose name is unrecorded. 
These three had a sort of mock assize of their own. 
They made regular tours of discovery, at a charge 
of twenty shillings for expenses at each place they 
visited. There appears to have been a fee paid or 
exacted for each witch "bagged"; and such was his 
greed that after a while he actually lowered the 
price. In 1645, which was perhaps his "best" year, 
the price declined to a shilling a head. Hopkins 



WITCHCRAFT 193 

and his gang took comfort, however, from the fact 
that the industry was a growing one. The trade 
had only been initiated in 1644, and already in a 
year's time he had in one day procured the execu- 
tion of eighteen alleged witches ; and at the end of 
that assize, after the gaol delivery had been 
effected, one hundred and twenty suspects still 
awaited trial. In the skilful hands of Matthew 
Hopkins, trial was only a step on the road to cer- 
tain execution by one of the forms in use. Here 
came in, not only the witchfinder's legal knowledge, 
but also his gift of invention — the latter being 
used in the formulation of so-called "tests" which 
were bound to be effective. Of these the simplest 
was the water test. The subject's thumbs were tied 
together and she was then thrown into water of 
sufficient depth. If she did not drown, it was taken 
as a proof of guilt; and she was hanged by form 
of law. In some cases, as an alternative, she was 
burned. If she did not stand the test her friends 
had the pleasure of knowing that she was pro- 
nounced to have died innocent. In any case there 
was no further trouble with her. Such was the 
accuracy as well as the simplicity of similar "tests" 
that, in the twenty years previous to the Restora- 
tion, between three and four thousand alleged 
witches perished in England from one cause or an- 
other. Hopkins professed to be both just and 
merciful. He seemed generally willing to afford 
a "test" to the accused; though, truth to tell, the 



194 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

result was always the same. In such cases the test 
was eminently calculated to evoke confession, and 
such confession, no matter how ridiculous or ex- 
travagant it might be, was simply a curved road to 
the rope or the torch instead of a straight one. 
One of these pleasing "tests" was to place the old 
woman — they were all women and all old — sitting 
cross-legged on a stool or table where she could be 
well watched. She was generally kept in that po- 
sition under inspection, without food or water, for 
twenty-four hours. At the end of that time such 
resolution as had remained disappeared, and in the 
vain blind hope of some change for the better, some 
alleviation however slight of the grinding misery, 
of the agony of body and mind and soul, they con- 
fessed. And such confessions! The very consid- 
eration of such of them as now remain in the cold 
third-person method of a mere recorder, almost 
makes one weep; there is hardly a word that is not 
almost a certificate of character. With every de- 
sire to confess — for such was the last hope of 
pleasing their torturers — their utter ignorance 
of confessional matter is almost a proof of in- 
nocence. 

Just imagine the scene — a village or hamlet, or 
the poorer quarter of a small country town with 
squalid surroundings, marking a poverty which in 
this age has no equal; a poor, old, lonely woman 
whose long life of sordid misery, of hunger and the 
diseases that huddle closely around want, hopeless, 



WITCHCRAFT 195 

despairing, recognising her fate through the pro- 
longed physical torture with which age and infirm- 
ity rendered her unable even to attempt to cope. 
Round her gathered, in a sickly ring, a crowd of 
creatures debased by the exercise of greed and 
cruelty to a lower level than the beasts. Their ob- 
ject is not to inquire, to test, to judge; but only to 
condemn, to wreck, to break, to shatter. Some of 
them, she realises even in her agony, are spurred on 
by the same zeal which animated the cruelty of fol- 
lowers of Ignatius in the grim torture-chambers of 
the Inquisition. 

The poor dazed, suffering old creature, racked 
with pains prolonged beyond endurance, tries to 
rally such glimmerings of invention as are possible 
to her untaught, unfed mind; but finds herself at 
every failure fluttering helplessly against a wall of 
spiritual granite which gives back not even an echo 
to her despairing cry. At last she comes to that 
stage where even fright and fear have no standing 
room, and where the blank misery of suffering 
ceases to be effective. Then the last flicker of de- 
sire for truth or rectitude of purpose dies away, 
and she receives in feeble acquiescence such sug- 
gestions as are shouted or whispered to her, in the 
hope that by accepting them she may win a mo- 
ment's ease of body or mind, even if it be her last 
on earth. Driven beyond mortal limits her untu- 
tored mind gives way; and with the last remnants 
of her strength she yields her very soul to her perse- 



196 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

cutors. The end does not matter to her now. 
Life has no more to offer her — even of pain, which 
is the last conscious tie to existence. And through 
it all, ghoul-like, watching and waiting for the col- 
lapse, whilst outwardly he goes through the 
mechanical ritual of prayer, we see in the back- 
ground the sinister figure of the attorney, prepar- 
ing in his mind such evidence as he may procure or 
invent for his work of the next day. 

It needs the imagination of a Dante to consider 
what should be the place of such an one in history, 
and any eternity of punishment that that imagina- 
tion could suggest must be inadequate. Even 
pity itself which rests on sympathy and is kin to 
the eternal spirit of justice, would have imagined 
with satisfaction the wretched soul going through a 
baleful eternity clinging in perpetual agony of fear 
to the very King of Terrors. 

In judging Matthew Hopkins one must not, in 
justice to others, accord him any of the considera- 
tion which is the due of good intent. Not a score of 
years after his shameful death, a man was born in 
a newer land far beyond the separating sea, who 
through his influence, his teaching, the expression 
of his honest conviction, was the cause of perhaps 
more deaths than the English anti-witch. We re- 
fer to Cotton Mather, who believed he wrought for 
the Lord — in his own way — in Xew England. But 
guilt does not attach to him. He was an earnest, 
though mistaken man, and the results of his mis- 



WITCHCRAFT 197 

taken teaching were at variance with the trend of 
his kindly, godly life. 

It must be pleasing to the spirit of the Old Adam 
which is in us all in some form, to think of the 
manner of the death of Matthew Hopkins. Three 
years had exhausted not only the material available 
for his chosen work, but, what was worse for him, 
the patience of the community. Moreover, he had 
given cause for scandal in even his own degraded 
trade and in himself, the filthiest thing in connec- 
tion with it. Xot content with dealing with the 
poor, helpless folk, whom he had come to regard 
as his natural prey, he went on fancy flights of 
oppression. At last he went too far. He ven- 
tured to denounce an aged clergyman of blameless 
life. The witch-fever was too strong for justice 
in any form, and neither age, high character, 
nor sacred office could protect this gentleman of 
eighty years of age. He too was tortured, till in a 
moment of unhinged mind, he confessed as he was 
ordered, and was duly hanged. This was in 1645. 
The old man's death was not in vain, for it was 
made the occasion of much necessary plain speak- 
ing. Presently the public conscience was wakened ; 
chiefly by another cleric, the Rev. John Caule, 
vicar of Great Staughton, Huntingdonshire — all 
honour to him! — who, though strange to say he be- 
lieved in witchcraft, realised the greater evil 
wrought by men like Hopkins. He published a 
pamphlet in which he denounced Hopkins as a com- 



198 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

mon nuisance. The result, if slow, was sure. The 
witch-finder never recovered from the shock of 
Caule's vigorous attack. In 1647, on information 
based on Hopkins' own rules, he was arrested and 
subjected to the test which he had devised: he was 
tied by the thumbs and thrown into the water. Un- 
fortunately for himself he withstood the test — 
drowning, except for a short period of pangs, is an 
easy death — and so was by process of Law duly 
hanged. 

One can imagine how the whole atmosphere of 
the country — surcharged with suspicion, fear, op- 
pression, torture, perjury or crime — was cleared by 
the execration which followed the removal of this 
vile wretch. 



VI. ARTHUR ORTON 



VI. ARTHUR ORTON 

(The Tichborne Claimant.) 

m 

IN the annals of crime, Arthur Orton, the no- 
torious claimant to the rich estates and title of 
Tichborne, takes a foremost place ; not only as 
the originator of one of the most colossal attempts 
at fraud on record, but also from his remarkable 
success in duping the public. It would be difficult 
indeed to furnish a more striking example of 
the height to which the blind credulity of peo- 
ple will occasionally attain. Of pretenders, 
who by pertinacious and unscrupulous lying 
have sought to bolster up fictitious claims, there 
have been many before Orton; but he certainly 
surpassed all his predecessors in working out 
the lie circumstantial in such a way as to divide 
the country for years into two great parties — those 
who believed in the Claimant, and those who did 
not. Over one hundred persons, drawn from every 
class, and for the most part honest in their belief, 
swore to the identity of this illiterate butcher's son 
— this stockman, mail-rider and probably bush- 
ranger and thief — as the long-lost son and heir of 
the ancient house of Tichborne of Titchborne. To 
gain his own selfish ends this individual was ready 

201 



202 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

to rob a gentlewoman of her fair fame, to destroy 
the peace of a great family who, to free themselves 
from a persecution, as cruel as it was vicious, had to 
be pilloried before a ruthless and unsympathising 
mob, to have the privacy of their home invaded, and 
to hear their women's names banded from one 
coarse mouth to another. Thus, and through no 
fault of their own, they were compelled to endure a 
mental torture far worse than any physical suffer- 
ing, besides having to expend vast sums of money, 
as well as time and labour, in order to protect them- 
selves from the would-be depredations of an un- 
scrupulous adventurer. It has been estimated that 
the resistance of this fictitious claim cost the Tich- 
borne estate not far short of one hundred thousand 
pounds. 

The baronetcy of Tichborne, now Doughty-Tich- 
borne, is one of the oldest. It has been claimed 
that the family held possession of the Manor of 
Tichborne for two hundred years before the Con- 
quest. Be this as it may — and, in the light of 
J. H. Round's revelations, some scepticism as to 
these pre-Xorman pedigrees is permissible — their 
ancestors may be traced back to one Walter de 
Tichborne who held the manor, from which he took 
his name, as early as 1135. Their names too, 
are interwoven with the history of the country. 
Sir Benjamin, the first baronet — for the earlier 
de Tichbornes were knights, — as Sheriff of South- 
hampton, on the death of Queen Elizabeth, re- 




Photo, by Maull & Fox. 



Copyright. 

ARTHUR ORTON 



ARTHUR ORTON 203 

paired instantly to Winchester and on his own in- 
itiative proclaimed the accession of James VI of 
Scotland as King of England, for which service he 
was made a baronet, and his four sons received the 
honour of knighthood. His successor, Sir Rich- 
ard, was a zealous supporter of the Royal cause 
during the civil wars. Sir Henry, the third bar- 
onet, hazarded his life in the defence of Charles I 
and had his estates sequestered by the Parliamen- 
tarians though he was recompensed at the Resto- 
ration. 

Believers in occultism might see in the trials and 
tribulations brought down upon the unfortunate 
heads of the Tichborne family by the machinations 
of the Claimant, the realisation of the doom pro- 
nounced by a certain Dame Ticheborne away back 
in the days of Henry II. 

Sir Roger de Ticheborne of those days married 
Mabell, the daughter and heiress of Ralph de Lam- 
erston, of Lamerston, in the Isle of Wight, by 
whom he acquired that estate. This good wife 
played the part of lady bountiful of the neighbour- 
hood. After a life spent in acts of charity and 
goodness, as her end drew nigh and she lay on her 
death bed, her thoughts went out to her beloved 
poor. She begged her husband, that in order to 
have her memory kept green the countryside round, 
he would grant a bequest sufficient to ensure, once a 
year, a dole of bread to all comers to the gates of 
Tichborne. To gratify her whim Sir Roger prom- 



204 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

ised her as much land as she could encompass while 
a brand plucked from the fire should continue to 
burn. As the poor lady had been bedridden for 
years her husband may have had no idea that she 
could, even if she would, take his promise seriously. 
However, the venerable dame, after being carried 
out upon the ground, seemed to regain her strength 
in a miraculous fashion, and, to the surprise of all, 
managed to crawl round several rich and goodly 
acres which to this day are known as "the Crawls." 

Carried to her bed again after making this last 
supreme effort and summoning her family to her 
bedside, Lady Ticheborne predicted with her dying 
breath, that, as long as this annual dole was con- 
tinued, so long should the house of Tichborne pros- 
per; but, should it be neglected, their fortunes 
would fail and the family name become extinct 
from want of male issue. As a sure sign by which 
these disasters might be looked for, she foretold 
that a generation of seven sons would be immedi- 
ately followed by one of seven daughters. 

The benevolent custom thus established was faith- 
fully observed for centuries. On every Lady Day 
crowds of humble folk came from near and far to 
partake of the famous dole which consisted of hun- 
dreds of small loaves. But ultimately the occasion 
degenerated into a noisy merry-making, a sort of 
fair, until it was finally discontinued in 1796, ow- 
ing to the complaints of the magistrates and local 
gentry that the practice encouraged vagabonds, 



ARTHUR ORTON 205 

gipsies and idlers of all sorts to swarm into the 
neighbourhood under pretence of receiving the dole. 

Strangely enough Sir Henry Tichborne, the 
baronet of that day (the original name of de Tiche- 
borne had by this time been reduced to Tichborne) , 
had seven sons, while his eldest son who succeeded 
him in 1821, had seven daughters. The extinction 
of the family name, too, came to pass, for in the 
absence of male issue, Sir Henry, the eighth bar- 
onet, was succeeded by his brother, who had taken 
the surname of Doughty on coming into the estates 
bequeathed to him on these terms, by a distant rela- 
tive, Miss Doughty; though, in after years, his 
brother, who in turn succeeded him, obtained the 
royal licence to couple the old family name with 
that of Doughty. Following this repeated lapse 
of direct male heirs came other troubles; but it is 
to be hoped that the successful defeat of the fraudu- 
lent claim of Arthur Orton set a period to the doom 
pronounced long years ago by the Lady Mabell. 

Most families, great and small, have their secret 
troubles and unpleasantness, and the Tichbornes 
seem to have had their share of them. To this may 
be traced the actual, if remote, cause of the Claim- 
ant's imposture. James Tichborne, afterwards the 
tenth baronet, the father of the missing Roger, who 
was drowned in the mysterious loss of the Bella, off 
the coast of South America, in the spring of 1854, 
lived abroad for many years; but, while his wife 
was French in every sentiment, he himself from 



206 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

time to time exhibited a keen desire to return to his 
native land. When Roger was born there was 
small likelihood of his ever succeeding to either 
title or estates, and so his education was almost en- 
tirely a foreign one. 

Sir Henry Tichborne, who had succeeded in 1821, 
though blessed with seven beautiful daughters, had 
no son. Still there was their uncle Edward, who 
had taken the name of Doughty, and he, after Sir 
Henry, was the next heir. Edward, too, had a son 
and daughter. But, one day, news came to James 
and his wife, in France, that their little nephew 
was dead; and with the possibilities which this 
change opened up, it brought home to the father 
the error he had committed in permitting Roger to 
grow up ignorant of the English tongue and habits. 
It was manifest that Mr. James F. Tichborne was 
not unlikely to become the next baronet, and he 
felt it his bounden duty to make good his previous 
neglect, by providing his son with an English edu- 
cation, such as would fit him for his probable posi- 
tion as head of the house of Tichborne. In this 
praiseworthy intention he met with strong opposi- 
tion from his wife whose great aim it was to see 
her son grow up a Frenchman. To her, France 
was the only land worth living in. She cared 
nought for family traditions; her dream was that 
her darling boy should marry into some distin- 
guished family in France or Italy. If he was to 
enter the army, then it should be in some foreign 



ARTHUR ORTON 207 

service. But to England he should not go if she 
could prevent it. 

James Tichborne, like many weak men with self- 
willed wives, put off the inevitable day as long as 
he could; and in the end only achieved his purpose 
by strategy. Roger was sixteen years of age when 
news arrived of the death of Sir Henry. Naturally 
James arranged to be present at his brother's 
funeral and it was only reasonable that he should 
be accompanied by his son Roger, whom everyone 
now regarded as the heir. Accordingly the boy 
took leave of his mother, but under the solemn in- 
junction to return quickly. However, his father 
had determined otherwise. After attending the 
funeral of his uncle, at the old chapel at Tichborne, 
Roger was, by the advice of relatives and friends, 
and with the consent of the boy himself, taken down 
to the Jesuit College at Stonyhurst. When Mrs. 
Tichborne learned of this step, her fury knew no 
bounds. She upbraided her husband violently ; and 
there was a renewal of the old scenes in the Tich- 
borne establishment. Roger wrote his mother 
filial, if ill-spelt, letters in French; but, for a year, 
the son, though ardently looking for a letter, got 
no token of affection from the incensed and in- 
dignant lady. 

During his three years' stay at Stonyhurst, 
Roger seems to have applied himself diligently to 
the study of English; but, though he made fair 
progress, he was never able to speak it with as much 



208 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

purity and command of words as when conversing 
in French. In Latin, mathematics, and chemistry, 
too, he contrived to make fair headway; while his 
letters evidenced an inclination for the study of 
polite literature. If not highly accomplished, he 
was of a refined and sensitive nature. During this 
period he made many friends, spending his vaca- 
tion with his English relatives in turn. His great 
delight was to stay at Tichborne, then in possession 
of his father's brother, Sir Edward Doughty. 
Withal, the shy, pale-faced boy steadily gained in 
favour, for he had a nature which disarmed ill-feel- 
ing. As time wore on it became necessary to de- 
termine on some profession for the lad; and need- 
less to say his father's choice of the army added 
fuel to the fire of his wife's anger. After some 
delay a commission was obtained and Mr. Roger 
Charles Tichborne was gazetted a coronet in the 
Sixth Dragoons, better known as the Carbineers. 

Defeated in her purpose of making a Frenchman 
of her boy, Roger's mother yet continued to harp 
upon her old desire to marry him to one of the 
Italian princesses of whom he had heard so much. 
But Roger had other ideas, for he had fallen pas- 
sionately in love with his cousin — Miss Katharine 
Doughty afterwards Lady RadclifFe. However, 
the course of love was not to run smooth. The 
Tichbornes had always been Roman Catholic, and 
the marriage of first cousins was discountenanced 
by that church. Consequently when some little 



ARTHUR ORTON 209 

token incidentally revealed to the father the secret 
and yet unspoken love of the young people, their 
dream was rudely shattered. 

That the girl warmly reciprocated her cousin's 
affection was beyond question, and Lady Doughty 
was certainly sympathetic though she took excep- 
tion to certain of her nephew's habits. He was an 
inveterate smoker besides drinking too freely. 
These and other little failings seem to have aroused 
some fear in her anxious mother's heart, though she 
quite recognised the boy's kind disposition, and the 
fact that he was truthful, honourable and scrupu- 
lous in points of duty. Still she would not oppose 
the wishes of the young lovers — except to the ex- 
tent of pleading and encouraging Roger to master 
his weaknesses. It was Christmas time in 1851 
when the denoument came and the eyes of Sir Ed- 
ward were opened to what was going on. He was 
both vexed and angry, and was resolved that the en- 
gagement should be broken off before it grew more 
serious. One last interview was permitted to the 
cousins and, this over, the young man was to leave 
the house forever. The great hope of his life ex- 
tinguished, there was nothing left for Roger but 
to rejoin his regiment, then expecting orders for 
India, and to endeavour to forget the past. Still 
even in those dark days neither Roger nor Kate 
quite gave up hope of some change. Lady 
Doughty, despite her dread of her nephew's habits, 
had a warm regard for him, and could be relied 



210 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

upon to plead his cause; and in a short time cir- 
cumstances unexpectedly favoured him. Sir Ed- 
ward was ill and, fearing that death was approach- 
ing, he sent for his nephew and revived the subject. 
He explained that if it were not for the close rela- 
tionship he should have no objection to the marriage 
and begged Roger to wait for three years. If then 
the affection, one for the other, remained unaltered, 
and providing that Roger obtained his own father's 
consent and that of the Church, he would accept 
things as the will of God and agree to the union. 
As might be expected, Roger gratefully promised 
loyally to observe the sick man's wishes. 

However, Sir Edward, instead of dying, slowly 
mended, and Roger returned to his regiment. Oc- 
casionally he would spend his leave with his aunt 
and uncle, when the young people loved to walk 
together in the beautiful gardens of Tichborne ex- 
changing sweet confidences and weaving plans for 
the future. On what proved to be his last visit to 
his ancestral home, in the midsummer of 1852, 
Roger, to comfort his cousin, confided a secret to 
ner — a CO py of a vow, which he had written out 
and signed, solemnly pledging himself, in the event 
of their being married before three years had 
passed, to build a church or chapel at Tichborne as 
a thanks offering to the Holy Virgin for the pro- 
tection shown by her in praying God that their 
wishes might be fulfilled. 

His leave up, Roger went back to his regiment 



ARTHUR ORTON 211 

more than ever a prey to his habitual melancholy. 
To his great regret the orders for the Carbineers 
to go to India were countermanded. He accord- 
ingly determined to throw up his commission and 
travel abroad until his period of probation had 
passed. South America had long been the subject 
of his dreams, and so thither he would make his 
way; and in travelling through that vast continent 
he hoped to find occupation for his mind and so get 
through the trying period of waiting. His plan 
was to spend a year in Chili, Guayaquil and Peru, 
and thence to visit Mexico, and so, by way of the 
United States, to return home. Having come to 
this resolution he lost no time in putting it into ex- 
ecution. Being of business-like habits he made his 
will, in which he purposely omitted any mention of 
the "church or chapel." This secret had already 
been committed to paper, and with other precious 
souvenirs of his love for his cousin, had been con- 
fided to his most trusted friend — Mr. Gosford, the 
steward of the family estate. After paying a 
round of farewell visits to his parents and old 
friends in Paris, Roger finally set sail from Havre, 
on March 21, 1853, in a French vessel named La 
Pauline, for Valparaiso, at which port she arrived 
on the 19th of the following June, when Roger set 
out on his wanderings. During his travels Roger 
continued to write home regularly; but the first 
news he received was bad. Sir Edward Doughty 
had died almost before the Pauline had lost sight 



212 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

of the English shores; and Roger's father and 
mother were now Sir James and Lady Tichborne. 

Presently the wanderer began to retrace his steps, 
making his way to Rio de Janeiro. Here, he found 
a vessel called the Bella hailing from Liverpool, 
about to sail for Kingston, Jamaica, and as he had 
directed his letters and remittances to be forwarded 
there, he prevailed upon the captain to give him a 
passage. On the 20th of April, 1854, the Bella 
passed from the port of Rio into the ocean. From 
that day no one ever set eyes upon her. Six 
days after she left harbour, a ship traversing 
her path found, amongst other ominous tokens 
of a wreck, a capsized long-boat bearing the name 
"Bella,, Liverpool." 

These were taken into Rio and forthwith the 
authorities caused the neighbouring seas to be 
scoured in quest of survivors; but none were ever 
found. That the Bella had foundered there was 
little room to doubt. It was supposed that she had 
been caught in a sudden squall, that her cargo had 
shifted, and that, unable to right herself, the vessel 
had gone down in deep water, giving but little 
warning to those on board. In a few months the 
sad news reached Tichborne, where the absence of 
letters from the previously diligent correspondent 
had already raised grave fears. The sorrow- 
stricken father caused enquiries to be made in 
America and elsewhere. For a time, there was a 
faint hope that some one aboard the Bella might 



ARTHUR ORTON 213 

have been picked up by some passing vessel ; but, as 
months wore on, even these small hopes dwindled 
away. The letters which poor Roger had so anx- 
iously asked might be directed to him at the post 
office, Kingston, Jamaica, remained there till the 
ink grew faded; the banker's bill which lay at the 
agents' remained unclaimed. At last the unfortu- 
nate vessel was finally written off at Lloyd's as 
lost, the insurance money paid, and gradually the 
Bella faded from the memories of all but those who 
had lost friends or relatives in her. Lady Tich- 
borne alone, refused to abandon hope. 

Her obstinate disregard of such conclusive evi- 
dence of the fate of her unfortunate son preyed 
upon her mind to such an extent as to make her an 
easy victim for any scheming rascal pretending to 
have news of her lost son; and "sailors," who told 
all sorts of wild stories of how some of the survivors 
of the Bella had been rescued and landed in a for- 
eign port, became constant visitors at Tichborne 
Park and profited handsomely from the weak- 
minded lady's credulity. Sir James, himself, made 
short work of these tramping "sailors," but after 
his death, in 1862, the lady became even more ready 
to be victimised by their specious lies. 

Firm in her belief that Roger was still alive, 
Lady Tichborne now caused advertisements to be 
inserted in numerous papers; and in November, 
1865, she learnt through an agency in Sydney that 
a man answering the description of her son had been 



214 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

found in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. A 
long correspondence ensued, the tone and character 
of which ought to have put her on her guard ; but, 
over-anxious to believe that she had indeed found 
her long-lost son, any wavering doubts she may 
have had, were swept from her mind by the evidence 
of an aged negro servant named Boyle, an old pen- 
sioner of the Tichborne family. Boyle, who lived 
in New South Wales, professed to recognise the 
Claimant as his dear young master, and he certainly 
remained one of his most devoted adherents to the 
end. Undoubtedly this man's simplicity proved a 
very valuable asset to Orton. His intimate knowl- 
edge of the arrangements of Tichborne Park was 
pumped dry by his new master, who, aided by a 
most tenacious memory, was afterwards able to use 
the information thus obtained with startling effect. 
As to the identity of the Claimant with Arthur 
Orton there can be absolutely no doubt. As a re- 
sult of the enquiries made by the trustees of the 
Tichborne estate nearly the whole of his history was 
unmasked. He was born, in 1834, at Wapping 
where his father kept a butcher's shop. In 1848 he 
took passage to Valparaiso, whence he made his 
way up country to Melipilla. Here he stayed some 
eighteen months receiving much kindness from a 
family named Castro, and it was their name he went 
under at Wagga Wagga. In 1851 he returned 
home and entering his father's business became an 
expert slaughterman. The following year he emi- 



ARTHUR ORTON 215 

grated to Australia; but after the spring of 1854 he 
ceased to correspond with his family. He had evi- 
dently led a life of hardship and adventure — prob- 
ably not unattended with crime, and certainly with 
poverty. At Wagga Wagga he carried on a small 
butcher's business, and it was from here that he got 
into communication with Lady Tichborne just 
after his marriage to an illiterate servant girl. 

According to his subsequent confession, until his 
attention was drawn to the advertisement for the 
missing Roger, he had never even heard of the name 
of Tichborne, and it was only his success when, 
by way of a joke upon a chum, he claimed to be the 
missing baronet, that led him to pursue the matter 
in sober earnest. Indeed he seemed at first very 
reluctant to leave Australia, and probably he was 
only driven to accede to Lady Tichborne's request, 
to return "home" at once, by the fact that he had 
raised large sums of money on his expectations. 
His original intention was probably to obtain some 
sort of recognition, and then to return to Australia 
with whatever money he had succeeded in collect- 
ing. 

After wasting much time he left Australia and 
arrived in England, by a very circuitous route, on 
Christmas Day, 1866. His first step on landing, it 
was subsequently discovered, was to make a mys- 
terious visit to Wapping. His parents were dead, 
but his enquiries showed a knowledge, both of the 
Orton family and the locality, which was after- 



216 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

wards used against him with very damaging ef- 
fect. His next proceeding was to make a flying 
and surreptitious excursion to Tichborne House, 
where, as far as possible, he acquainted himself with 
the bearings of the place. In this he was greatly 
assisted by one Rous, a former clerk to the old 
Tichborne attorney, who was then keeping a public 
house in the place. From this man, who became 
his staunch ally, he had no doubt acquired much 
useful information; and it is significant that he 
sedulously kept clear of Mr. Gosford, the agent to 
whom the real Roger had confided his sealed packet 
before leaving England. 

Lady Tichborne was living in Paris at this time 
and it was here, in his hotel bedroom, on a dark 
January afternoon, that their first interview took 
place for, curiously enough, the gentleman was too 
ill to leave his bed ! The deluded woman professed 
to recognise him at once. As she sat beside his bed, 
"Roger" keeping his face turned to the wall, the 
conversation took a wide range, the sick man show- 
ing himself strangely astray. He talked to her of 
his grandfather, whom the real Roger had never 
seen; he said he had served in the ranks; referred 
to Stonyhurst as Winchester ; spoke of his suffering 
as a lad from St. Vitus's dance — a complaint which 
first led to young Arthur Orton being sent on a 
sea voyage; but did not speak of the rheumatism 
from which Roger had sufTered. But it was all 
one to the infatuated woman — "He confuses every- 



ARTHUR ORTON 217 

thing as if in a dream," she wrote in exculpating 
him; but unsatisfactory as this identification was, 
she never departed from her belief. She lived 
under the same roof with him for weeks, accepted 
his wife and children, and allowed him £1,000 a 
year. It did not weigh with her that the rest of 
the family unanimously declared him to be an im- 
postor, or that he failed to recognise them or to 
recall any incident in Roger's life. 

Nearly four years elapsed before the Claimant 
commenced his suit of ejectment against the trus- 
tees of the infant Sir Alfred Tichborne— the post- 
humous son of Roger's younger brother; but he 
utilised the time to good purpose. He had taken 
into his service a couple of old Carbineers who had 
been Roger's servants and before long so com- 
pletely mastered small details of regimental life that 
some thirty of Roger's old brother-officers and men 
were convinced of his identity. He went every- 
where, called upon all Roger's old friends, visited 
the Carbineers' mess and generally left no stone un- 
turned to get together evidence in support of his 
identity. As a result of his strenuous activity and 
plausibility he produced at the first trial over one 
hundred witnesses who, on oath, identified him as 
Roger Tichborne; and these witnesses included 
Lady Tichborne, the family solicitor, magistrates, 
officers and men from Roger's old regiment be- 
sides various Tichborne tenants and friends of the 
family. On the other hand, there were only seven- 



218 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

teen witnesses arraigned against him; and, in his 
own opinion, it was his own evidence that lost him 
the case. He would have won, he said, "if only- 
he could have kept his mouth shut." 

The trial of this action lasted 102 days. Ser- 
geant Ballantine led for the Claimant; and Sir 
John Coleridge (afterwards Lord Chief-justice), 
and Mr. Hawkins, Q. C. (afterwards Lord Bramp- 
ton), for the trustees of the estates of Tichborne. 
The cross-examination of the Claimant at the hands 
of Sir John Coleridge lasted twenty-two days, 
during which the colossal ignorance he displayed 
was only equalled by his boldness, dexterity and the 
bull-dog tenacity with which he faced the ordeal. 
To quote Sir John's own words : "The first sixteen 
years of his life he has absolutely forgotten ; the few 
facts he had told the jury were already proved, or 
would hereafter be shown, to be absolutely false and 
fabricated. Of his college life he could recollect 
nothing. About his amusements, his books, his 
music, his games, he could tell nothing. Not a 
word of his family, of the people with whom he 
lived, their habits, their persons, their very names. 
He had forgotten his mother's maiden name; he 
was ignorant of all particulars of the family estate ; 
he remembered nothing of Stonyhurst; and in mili- 
tary matters he was equally deficient. Roger, born 
and educated in France, spoke and wrote French 
like a native and his favourite reading was French 
literature; but the Claimant knew nothing of 



ARTHUR ORTON 219 

French. Of the 'sealed' packet he knew nothing 
and, when pressed, his interpretation of its contents 
contained the foulest and blackest calumny of the 
cousin whom Roger had so fondly loved. This was 
proved by Mr. Gosford, to whom the packet had 
been originally entrusted, and by the production 
of the duplicate which Roger had given to Miss 
Doughty herself. The physical discrepancy, too, 
was no less remarkable ; for, while Roger, who took 
after his mother was slight and delicate, with nar- 
row sloping shoulders, a long narrow face and thin 
straight dark hair, the Claimant was of enormous 
bulk, scaling over twenty-four stone, big-framed 
and burly, with a large round face and an abun- 
dance of fair and rather wavy hair. And yet, curi- 
ously enough, the Claimant undoubtedly possessed 
a strong likeness to several male members of the 
Tichborne family." 

When questioned as to the impressive episode of 
Roger's love for his cousin, the Claimant showed 
himself hopelessly at sea. His answers were con- 
fused and irreconcilable. Not only could he give 
no precise dates, but even the broad outline of the 
story was beyond him. Yet, for good reasons, the 
Solicitor-General persisted in pressing him as to the 
contents of the sealed packet and compelled him to 
repeat the slanderous version of the incident which 
he had long ago given when interrogated on the 
point. Mrs. Radcliffe (she was not then Lady) 
sat in court beside her husband, and thus had the 



220 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

satisfaction of seeing the infamous charges brought 
against the fair fame of her girlhood recoil on the 
head of the wretch who had resorted to such vil- 
lainous devices. Unfortunately, some years after 
Roger's disappearance, Mr. Gosford, feeling that 
he was neither justified in keeping the precious 
packet, nor in handing it to any other person, had 
burnt it; but, fortunately his testimony as to its 
contents was proved in the most complete manner 
by the production of the duplicate which poor 
Roger had given to his cousin on his last visit to 
Tichborne. 

Where the case broke down most completely was 
in the matter of tattoo marks. Roger had been 
freely tattooed. Among other marks he bore, on 
his left arm, a cross, an anchor, and a heart which 
was testified to by the persons who had pricked them 
in. Orton, too, it was found out, had also been 
tattooed on his left arm with his initials, "A. O.," 
and, though neither remained, there was a mark 
which was sworn to be the obliteration of those let- 
ters. Small wonder then that, on the top of this 
damning piece of evidence, the jury declared they 
required to hear nothing further, upon which the 
Claimant's counsel, to avoid the inevitable verdict 
for their opponents, elected to be nonsuited. But 
these tactics did not save their client, for he was at 
once arrested, on the judge's warrant, on the charge 
of wilful and corrupt perjury, and committed to 



ARTHUR ORTON 221 

Newgate where he remained until bail for £10,000 
was forthcoming. 

A year later, on April 23, 1873, the Claimant 
was arraigned before a special jury in the Court 
of Queen's Bench. The proceedings were of a 
most prolix and unusual character. Practically 
the same ground was covered as in the civil trial, 
only the process was reversed : the Claimant having 
now to defend instead of to attack. Many of the 
better-class witnesses, including the majority of 
Roger's brother-officers, now forsook the Claimant. 
There was a deal of cross-swearing. The climax 
of the long trial was the production by the defence 
of a witness to support the Claimant's account of 
his wreck and rescue. This was a man who called 
himself Jean Luie and claimed to be a Danish sea- 
man. With a wealth of picturesque detail he told 
how he was one of the crew of the Osprey which 
had picked up a boat of the shipwrecked Bella, in 
which was the claimant and some of the crew, and 
how when the Osprey arrived at Melbourne, in the 
height of the gold fever, every man of the crew 
from the captain downwards had deserted the ship 
and gone up country. According to his story from 
that time forth he had seen nothing of any of the 
castaways; but having come to England in search 
of his wife he had heard of the trial. When Luie 
was first brought into the presence of the Claimant 
that astute person immediately claimed him with 



222 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

the greeting in Spanish ee Como esta, Lute?" — 
"How are you, Luie?" The sailor with equal 
readiness recognised Orton as the man he had 
helped to rescue years before. All this sounded 
very convincing; but it would not stand investiga- 
tion. From the beginning to end the thing was an 
invention; an examination of shipping records 
failed to find the Osprey so that she must have es- 
caped the notice of the authorities in every port she 
had entered from the day she was launched! Of 
"Sailor" Luie, however, a very complete record was 
established. Not only were the police able to prove 
that, at the time he swore he was a seaman on board 
the Osprey,, he was actually employed by a firm at 
Hull; that he had never been a seaman at all; but 
that he was a well-known habitual criminal and con- 
vict only recently released on a ticket-of -leave. 
This made tilings very awkward for the defence 
who made every effort to shake free from the taint 
of such perjured evidence. Dr. Kenealy, seeing 
his dilemma, contended that it had been concocted 
by Luie himself. But the damning and unanswer- 
able fact remained — that, by his recognition of the 
man, the Claimant had acknowledged a previous ac- 
quaintance with him which he could only have had 
by being privy to the fraud. 

On February 28, 1874, the one hundred and 
eighty-eighth day of the trial, the jury after half- 
an-hour's deliberation returned their verdict. 
They found that the defendant was not Roger 



ARTHUR ORTON 223 

Charles Tichborne; that he was Arthur Orton; and 
finally that the charges made against Miss 
Catherine Doughty were not supported by the 
slightest evidence. Orton was sentenced to four- 
teen years' penal servitude which, assuredly, was 
none too heavy for offences so enormous. The 
trial was remarkable, not only for its inordinate 
length, but also for the extraordinary scenes by 
which it was characterised and for which Dr. 
Kenealy, leading counsel for the defence, was pri- 
marily responsible. His conduct was sternly de- 
nounced by the Lord Chief Justice in his summing 
up as: "the torrent of undisguised and unlimited 
abuse in which the learned counsel for the defence 
has thought fit to indulge," and he declared that 
"there never was in the history of jurisprudence a 
case in which such an amount of imputation and in- 
vective had been used before." After the trial was 
over, Dr. Kenealy tried to turn the case into a na- 
tional question through the medium of a virulent 
paper he started with the title of the Englishman; 
and undeterred by being disbarred for his flagrant 
breaches of professional etiquette, he went about the 
country delivering the most extravagant speeches 
concerning the trial. He was elected Member of 
Parliament for Stoke, and, on April 23, 1875, 
moved for a royal commission of inquiry into the 
conduct of the Tichborne Case ; but his motion was 
defeated by 433 votes to 1. 

The verdict and sentence created enormous ex- 



224 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

citement throughout the country, for all classes, 
more or less, had subscribed to the defence fund. 
But, by the time Orton was released, in 1884, prac- 
tically all interest had died away, and his effort to 
resuscitate it was a miserable failure. In the 
sworn confession which he published in the People, 
in 1895, he told the whole story of the fraud from 
its inception to its final denouement. Orton sur- 
vived his release from prison for fourteen years, 
but gradually sinking into poverty, he died in ob- 
scure lodgings in Shouldham Street, Marylebone, 
on April 1, 1898. To the end he was a fraud and 
impostor for, before his death, he is said to have 
recanted his sworn confession, which nevertheless 
bore the stamp of truth and was in perfect accord 
with the information obtained by the prosecution, 
while his coffin bore the lying inscription: "Sir 
Roger Charles Doughty Tichborne; born 5th 
January, 1829; died 1st April, 1898." 



VII. WOMEN AS MEN 



VII. WOMEN AS MEN 

A. THE MOTIVE FOR DISGUISE 

ONE of the commonest forms of imposture 
— so common that it seems rooted in a 
phase of human nature — is that of women 
who disguise themselves as men. It is not to be 
wondered at that such attempts are made; or 
that they were made more often formerly when 
social advancement had not enlarged the scope 
of work available for women. The legal and 
economic disabilities of the gentler sex stood 
then so fixedly in the way of working oppor- 
tunity that women desirous of making an hon- i 
est livelihood took desperate chances to achieve ( 
their object. We have read of very many cases inj 
the past; and even now the hum-drum of life is 
broken by the fact or the echo of some startling rev- 
elation of the kind. Only very lately the death of 
a person who had for many years occupied a 
worthy though humble position in London caused 
a post-mortem sensation by the discovery that the 
deceased individual, though looked on for about a 
quarter of a century as a man, a widower, and the 
father of a grown-up daughter, was in reality a 
woman. She was actually buried under the name 

227 



228 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

of the man she had professed to be, Harry Lloyd. 
It is not to be wondered at that in more stren- 
uous times, when the spirit of adventure was less 
curbed, and initial difficulties were less deadened 
by convention, cases of concealment of sex were far 
more numerous and more easily prolonged. In 
an age of foreign wars, many existing barriers 
against success in this respect were removed by 
general laxity of social conditions. Perhaps I may 
be allowed to say at the outset that, for my own 
part, my mind refuses absolutely to accept that 
which is generally alleged in each case, that the 
male comrades of women concealing their proper 
sex were, all through, ignorant of the true facts. 
Human nature is opposed to such a supposition, 
and experience bears out the shrewdness of nature. 
On occasions, or even for a time, it is possible to 
make such successful concealments. But when we 
are told that a woman has gone through a whole 
campaign or a prolonged voyage in all the over- 
crowded intimacy of tent and bivouac or of cabin 
and forecastle, without such a secret being sus- 
pected or discovered, the narrator makes an over- 
large draft on human credulity. That such com- 
rades, and many of them, forbore to give away the 
secret, no matter how it had come into their posses- 
sion, we may well believe. Comradeship is a strong 
factor in such matters, and it has its own loyalty, 
which is never stronger than when the various per- 
sons interested are held together by the knowledge 



WOMEN AS MEN 229 

of a common danger. But even to this there is a 
contra; the whole spirit of romance, even when it 
binds man to woman and woman to man, stands 
side by side with love, affection, passion — call it 
what you will — which opportunity can fan into 
flame. Never more so than in the strenuous days 
of fighting, when day and night are full of varying 
fears — when the mad turmoil of working hours and 
loneliness of the night forge new fetters for the 
binding together of the sexes. 

In real life, when a man or a woman tries to es- 
cape from capture or the fear of it in the guise of 
the opposite sex, it is a never-ending struggle to 
sustain the role successfully. If this is so, when the 
whole of the energies of mind and body are de- 
voted in singleness of purpose to the task, how then 
can the imposture be successfully prolonged when 
the mind is eternally occupied with the pressing 
things of the passing moments? There must in- 
fallibly be moments of self -betrayal ; and there is 
sufficient curiosity in the average person to insure 
that the opportunities of such moments are not lost. 
Be this as it may, we must in the first instance stick 
to matters of fact; the record is our sheet-anchor. 
After all, when we learn of a case where an im- 
posture of the kind has been successfully carried 
out, it is time enough to argue with convincing per- 
spicacity that it should not have been possible. 

As to record, there are quite sufficient cases to 
convince any reader as to the fact that, allowing for 



230 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

all possible error and wastage, there have been a 
sufficient number undetected at the time of their 
happening, and only made known by after-con- 
fession and by the force of ulterior circumstances. 
Whatever opinion we may form of the women who 
carried out the venture, there is neither occasion nor 
need to doubt the fact they were so carried out. 
The consideration of a few cases culled from the 
records of this class of successful imposture will 
make this plain. It would be useless, if not impos- 
sible, to make full lists of the names of women who 
have passed themselves off as men in the fight- 
ing world — soldiers and sailors, with side interests 
such as piracy, duelling, highway robbery, etc. 
Amongst the female soldiers are the names of 
Christian Davis (known as Mother Ross), Hannah 
Snell, Phoebe Hessel. Amongst the sailors those 
of Mary Talbot, Ann Mills, Hannah Whitney, 
Charles Waddell. In the ranks of the pirates are 
Mary Reid and Ann Bonney. In many of these 
cases are underlying romances, as of women mak- 
ing search for lost or absconding husbands, or of 
lovers making endeavours to regain the lost para- 
dise of life together. 

If there were nothing else in these little histories, 
their perusal in detail would well repay attention 
as affording proof of the boundless devotion of 
woman's love. No matter how badly the man may 
have treated the woman, no matter how heartlessly 
or badly he may have behaved towards her, her af- 



WOMEN AS MEN 231 

f ection was proof against all. Indeed it makes one 
believe that there is some subtle self-sustaining, 
self -ennobling quality in womanhood which her 
initial self -surrender makes a constant force to- 
wards good. Even a nature which took new 
strength from the turmoil of battle, from the har- 
rowing suspense of perpetual vigil, from the strain 
of physical weakness bravely borne, from pain and 
want and hunger, instead of hardening into obsti- 
nate indifference, seems to have softened as to 
sentiment, and been made gentle as to memory, as 
though the sense of wrong had been purged by the 
forces of affliction. All this, though the stress of 
campaigning may have blunted some of the conven- 
tional susceptibility of womanhood. For the after 
life of some of these warlike heroines showed that 
they had lost none of the love of admiration which 
marks their sex, none of their satisfaction in posing 
as characters other than their own. Several of 
them found pleasure in a new excitement differ- 
ent from that of battle, in the art of the stage. 
Whenever any of them made any effort to settle 
down in life after their excitement in the lif e of the 
camp or the sea, such did so at some place, and 
in some way congenial to herself and consistent 
with the life which she was leaving. 

B. HANNAH SNELL. 

Hannah Snell is a good instance of how the life 
of a woman who was not by nature averse from ad- 



232 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

venture was moulded by chance in the direction 
which suited her individuality. Of course, liking 
for a militant life, whether in conventional or ex- 
ceptional form, presupposes a natural boldness of 
spirit, resolution, and physical hardihood — all of 
which this woman possessed in an eminent degree. 
She was born at Worcester in 1723, one of the 
family of a hosier who had three sons and six 
daughters. In 1740, when her father and mother 
were dead, she went to live at Wapping with a sis- 
ter who had married a ship carpenter named Gray. 
There she married a Dutch sailor, who before her 
baby was born, had squandered such little property 
as her father had left her, and then deserted her. 
She went back to her sister, in whose house the baby 
died. In 1743, she made up her mind to search 
for her husband. To this end she put on man's 
clothes and a man's name (that of her brother-in- 
law) and enlisted in General Guise's regiment. At 
Carlisle, whither the regiment was sent she learned 
something of a soldier's duties. In doing so she 
was selected by her sergeant, a man called Davis, 
to help him in carrying out a criminal love affair. 
In order to be able to warn the girl she pretended 
acquiescence. In revenge the sergeant reported 
her for an alleged neglect of some duty for which 
according to the barbarous system of the time she 
was sentenced to 600 lashes ; of these she had actu- 
ally received 500 when on the intervention of some 
of the officers the remaining hundred were fore- 



WOMEN AS MEN 233 

gone. After this, fearing further aggression on 
the part of the revengeful petty officer she de- 
serted. She walked all the way to Portsmouth — 
a journey which occupied a whole month — where 
she again enlisted as a marine in Eraser's regiment, 
which was shortly ordered on foreign service to the 
East Indies. There was a storm on the way out, 
during which she worked manfully at the pumps. 
When the ship had passed Gibraltar there was an- 
other bad storm in which she was wrecked. Han- 
nah Snell found her way to Madeira and thence to 
the Cape of Good Hope. Her ship joined in the 
taking of Arcacopong on the Coromandel Coast; 
in which action Hannah fought so bravely that she 
was praised by her officers. Later on she assisted 
in the siege of Pondicherry which lasted nearly 
three months before it had to be abandoned. In the 
final attempt she served on picket duty and had to 
ford, under fire, a river breast high. During the 
struggle she received six bullets in the right leg, 
five in the left leg, and one in the abdomen. Her 
fear was not of death but discovery of her sex 
through the last-named wound. By the friendly 
aid of a black woman, however, she avoided this 
danger. She managed to extract the bullet her- 
self, with her finger and thumb, and the wound 
made a good cure. This wound caused her a delay 
of some weeks during which her ship had to leave;; 
for Bombay and was delayed five weeks by a leak. 
Poor Hannah was again unfortunate in her officers ; 



234 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

one of them to whom she had refused to sing had 
her put in irons and given a dozen lashes. In 1749 
she went to Lisbon, where she learned by chance 
that her husband had met at Genoa the death 
penalty by drowning, for a murder which he had 
committed. Discovery of her sex and her identity 
would have been doubly dangerous now; but hap- 
pily she was able to conceal her alarm and so es- 
caped detection. She got back to London through 
Spithead and once more found shelter in the house 
of her sister who at once recognised her in spite of 
her disguise. Her fine singing voice, which had 
already caused her to be flogged, now stood her in 
good stead. She applied for and obtained an en- 
gagement at the Royalty theatre, Wellclose square ; 
and appeared with success as Bill Bobstay a sailor 
and Firelock a soldier. She remained on the stage 
for some months, always wearing male dress. The 
government of the day gave her, on account of the 
hardships she had endured, a pension of £20 per 
annum. Later on she took a public-house at Wap- 
ping. The sign of her hostelry became noted. 
On one side of it was painted in effigy The British 
Tar and on the other The Valiant Marine, and un- 
derneath The Widow in masquerade, or the Female 
Warrior. 

As Hannah appeared during her adventurous 
career as both soldier and sailor she affords, in her- 
self, an illustrious example of female courage as 
well as female duplicity in both of the services. 



WOMEN AS MEN 235 

C. LA MAUPIN. 

The majority of the readers of the English- 
speaking race who enjoy Theophile Gautier's 
fascinating romance Mademoiselle de Maupin 
are not aware that the heroine was a real per- 
son. The novelist has of course made such 
alterations as are required to translate crude 
fact into more elegant fiction, and to obliterate so 
far as can be done the criminal or partly-criminal 
aspect of the lady's venturous career. But such is 
one of the chief duties of an artist in fiction. 
Though he may be an historian, in a sense, he is not 
limited to the occasional bareness of truth. His 
object is not that his work shall be true but rather 
what the French call vraisemblable. In narrative, 
as in most arts, crudeness is rather a fault than a 
virtue, so that the writer who looks for excellence 
in his work has without losing force, to fill up the 
blanks left by the necessary excision of fact by sub- 
tleties of thought and graces of description, so that 
the fulness or rotundity of the natural curves shall 
always be maintained. In truth the story of La 
Maupin is so laden with passages of excitement 
and interest that any writer on the subject has only 
to make an agreeable choice of episodes sufficiently 
dramatic, and consistent with each other, to form a 
cohesive narrative. Such a work has in it possi- 
bilities of great success — if only the author has the 
genius of a Theophile Gautier to set it forth. The 



236 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

real difficulty which such an one would have to con- 
tend against would be to remove the sordidness, the 
reckless passion, the unscrupulousness, the criminal 
intent which lies behind such a character. 

The Mademoiselle de Maupin of real life was a 
singer at the Opera in Paris at the end of the 
seventeenth century. She was the daughter of a 
man of somewhat humble extraction engaged in 
secretarial work with the Count d'Armagnac; and 
whilst only a girl married a man named Maupin 
employed in the province. With him she had lived 
only a few months when she ran away with a 
maitre d'armes (anglice, a fencing master) named 
Serane. If this individual had no other good qual- 
ity in matters human or divine, he was at least a 
good teacher of the sword. His professional arts 
were used in the service of his inamorata, who be- 
came herself an excellent swordsman even in an age 
when swordsmanship had an important place in 
social life. It may have been the sexual equality 
implied by the name which gave the young woman 
the idea, but thenceforth she became a man in ap- 
pearance; — in reality, in so far as such a meta- 
morphosis can be accomplished by courage, reck- 
lessness, hardihood, unscrupulousness, and a willing 
obedience to all the ideas which passion and sensual- 
ity can originate and a greed of notoriety carry into 
execution. 

In a professional tour from Paris to Marseilles, 
in which she as an actress took the part of a man, 



WOMEN AS MEN 237 

she gained the affections of the flighty daughter of 
a rich merchant of Marseilles; and, as a man, ran 
away with her. Being pursued, they sought ref- 
uge in a convent — a place which at that age it was 
manifestly easier to get into than to get out of. 
Here the two remained for a few days, during 
which, by the aid of histrionic and other arts, the 
actress obviated the necessary suspicions of her 
foolish companion and kept danger away. All the 
while La Maupin was conscious that an irate and 
rich father was in hot search for his missing daugh- 
ter, and she knew that any talk about the venture 
would infallibly lose her the girl's fortune, besides 
getting herself within the grip of the law. So she 
decided on a bold scheme of escape from the con- 
vent, whereby she might obliterate her tracks. A 
nun of the convent had died and her body was 
awaiting burial. In the night La Maupin ex- 
changed the body of the dead nun for the living one 
of her own victim. Having thus got her compan- 
ion out of the convent, she set the building on fire 
to cover up everything, and escaped in secret to a 
neighbouring village, taking with her by force the 
girl, who naturally enough was disillusioned and 
began to have scruples as to the wisdom of her con- 
duct. In the village they remained hidden for a 
few weeks, during which time the repentance of the 
poor girl became a fixed quantity. An attempt, 
well supported, was made to arrest the ostensible 
man; but this was foiled by the female swordsman 



238 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

who killed one of the would-be captors and danger- 
ously wounded two others. The girl, however, 
made good her escape ; secretly she fled from her de- 
ceiver and reached her parents in safety. But the 
hue and cry was out after La Maupin, whose 
identity was now known. She was pursued, cap- 
tured, and placed in gaol to await trial. The law 
was strong and inexorable; the erring woman who 
had thus outraged so many conventions was con- 
demned to be burned alive. 

But abstract law and the executive are quite dif- 
ferent things — at least they were in France at the 
close of the seventeenth century: as indeed they are 
occasionally in other countries and at varying times. 
La Maupin, being a woman and a clever one, pro- 
cured sufficient influence to have the execution post- 
poned, and so had the full punishment delayed, if 
not entirely avoided. More than this, she man- 
aged to get back to Paris and so to begin her nox- 
ious career all over again. Of course she had 
strong help from her popularity. She was a fa- 
vourite at the opera, and the class which patronises 
and supports this kind of artistic effort is a rich 
and powerful one, which governments do not care 
to displease by the refusal of such a small favour 
as making the law hold its hand with regard to an 
erring favourite. 

But La Maupin's truculent tendencies were not 
to be restrained. In Paris in 1695 whilst she was 
one of the audience at a theatre she took umbrage 



WOMEN AS MEN 239 

at some act or speech of one of the comedians play- 
ing in the piece, and leaving her seat went round 
to the stage and caned him in the presence of the 
audience. The actor, M. Dumenil, an accom- 
plished and favourite performer but a man of 
peaceful disposition, submitted to the affront and 
took no action in the matter. La Maupin, how- 
ever, suffered, through herself, the penalty of her 
conduct. She had entered on a course of violence 
which became a habit. For some years she flour- 
ished and exercised all the tyrannies of her own sex 
and in addition those habitual to men which came 
from expert use of the sword. Thus she went at- 
tired as a man to a ball given by a Prince of the 
blood. In that garb she treated a fellow-guest, a 
woman, with indecency ; and she was challenged by 
three different men — each of whom, when the con- 
sequent fight came on, she ran through the body, 
after which she returned to the ball. Shortly after- 
wards she fought and wounded a man, M. de 
Servan, who had affronted a woman. For these 
escapades she was again pardoned. She then went 
to Brussels where she lived under the protection of 
Count Albert of Bavaria, the Elector. With him 
she remained until the quarrel, inevitable in such a 
life, came. After much bickering he agreed to her 
demand of a settlement, but in order to show his 
anger by affronting her he sent the large amount 
of his involuntary bequest by the servile hand of 
the husband of his mistress, Countess d'Arcos, who 



240 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

had supplanted her, with a curt message that she 
must leave Brussels at once. The bearer of such a 
message to such a woman as La Maupin had prob- 
ably reckoned on an unfriendly reception; but he 
evidently underestimated her anger. Not con- 
tented with flinging at his head the large douceur 
of which he was the bearer, she expressed in her 
direct way her unfavourable opinion, of him, of his 
master, and of the message which he had carried 
for the latter. She ended her tirade by kicking 
him downstairs, with the justification for her form 
of physical violence that she would not sully her 
sword with his blood. 

From Brussels she went to Spain as femme de 
chambre to the Countess Marino but returned to 
Paris in 1704. Once more she took up her work 
as an opera singer ; or rather she tried to take it up, 
but she had lost her vogue, and the public would 
have none of her. As a matter of fact, she was 
only just above thirty years of age, which should 
under normal circumstances be the beginning of a 
woman's prime. But the life she had been leading 
since her early girlhood was not one which made for 
true happiness or for physical health; she was pre- 
maturely old, and her artistic powers were worn out. 

Still, her pluck, and the obstinacy on which it 
was grafted, remained. For a whole year she 
maintained a never-failing struggle for her old su- 
premacy, but without avail. Seeing that all was 



WOMEN AS MEN 241 

lost, she left the stage and returned to her husband 
who, realising that she was rich, managed to recon- 
cile whatever shreds of honour he had to her in- 
famous record. The Church, too, accepted her — 
and her riches — within its sheltering portals. By 
the aid of a tolerant priest she got absolution, and 
two years after her retirement from the opera she 
died in a convent in all the odour of sanctity. 

D. MARY EAST 

The story of Mary East is a pitiful one, 
and gives a picture of the civil life of the 
eighteenth century which cannot be lightly for- 
gotten. The condition of things has so changed 
that already we almost need a new terminology in 
order that we may understand as our great-grand- 
fathers did. Take for instance the following sen- 
tence and try individually how many points in it 
there are, the full meaning of which we are unable 
to understand : 

"A young fellow courted one Mary East, and for 
him she conceived the greatest liking; but he going 
upon the highway, was tried for a robbery and cast, 
but was afterwards transported." 

The above was written by an accomplished 
scholar, a Doctor of Divinity, rector of an English 
parish. At the time of' its writing, 1825, every 
word of it was entirely comprehensible. If a 



242 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

reader of that time could see it translated into mod- 
ern phraseology he would be almost as much sur- 
prised as we are when we look back upon an age 
holding possibilities no longer imaginable. 

"Going upon the highway" was in Mary East's 
time and a hundred years later a euphemism for 
becoming a highway robber; "cast" meant con- 
demned to death; "transported" meant exiled to a 
far distant place where one was guarded, and es- 
cape from which was punishable with death. 
Moreover robbery was at this time a capital of- 
fence. 

In 1736, when Mary East was sixteen, life was 
especially hard on women. Few honest occupa- 
tions were open to them, and they were subject to 
all the hardships consequent on a system in which 
physical weakness was handicapped to a frightful 
extent. When this poor girl was bereft of her nat- 
ural hope of a settlement in life she determined, as 
the least unattractive form of living open to her, to 
remain single. About the same time a friend of 
hers arrived at the same resolution but by a differ- 
ent road, her course being guided thereto by hav- 
ing "met with many crosses in love." The two 
girls determined to join forces; and on consulting 
as to ways and means decided that the likeliest way 
to avoid suspicion was to live together under the 
guise of man and wife. The toss of a coin decided 
their respective roles, the "breeches part" as it is 
called in the argot of the theatre, falling to East. 



WOMEN AS MEN 243 

The combined resources of the girls totalled some 
thirty pounds sterling, so after buying masculine 
garb for Mary they set out to find a place where 
they were unknown and so might settle down in 
peace. They found the sort of place they sought 
in the neighbourhood of Epping Forest where, 
there being a little public-house vacant, Mary — 
now under the name of James How — became the 
tenant. For some time they lived in peace at Ep- 
ping, with the exception of a quarrel forced by a 
young gentleman on the alleged James How in 
which the latter was wounded in the hand. It must 
have been a very one-sided affair, for when the in- 
jured "man" took action he was awarded £500 
damages — a large sum in those days and for such 
a cause. With this increase to their capital the two 
women moved to Limehouse on the east side of Lon- 
don where they took at Limehouse-hole a more im- 
portant public-house. This they managed in so ex- 
cellent a manner that they won the respect of their 
neighbours and throve exceedingly. 

After a time they moved from Limehouse to 
Poplar where they bought another house and added 
to their little estate by the purchase of other houses. 

Peace, hard work, and prosperity marked their 
life thence-forward, till fourteen years had passed 
since the beginning of their joint venture. 

Peace and prosperity are, however, but feeble 
guardians to weakness. Nay, rather are they in- 
centive to evil doing. For all these years the two 



244 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

young women had conducted themselves with such 
rectitude, and observed so much discretion, that 
even envy could not assail them through the web of 
good repute which they had woven round their mas- 
querade. Alone they lived, keeping neither 
female servant nor male assistant. They were 
scrupulously honest in their many commercial deal- 
ings and, absolutely punctual in their agreements 
and obligations. James How took a part in the 
public life of his locality, filling in turn every parish 
office except those of Constable and Churchwarden. 
From the former he was excused on account of the 
injury to his hand from which he had never com- 
pletely recovered. Regarding the other his time 
had not yet come, but he was named for Church- 
warden in the year following to that in which a 
bolt fell from the blue, 1730. It came in this wise : 
A woman whose name of coverture was Bently, 
and who was now resident in Poplar, had known the 
alleged James How in the days when they were 
both young. Her own present circumstances were 
poor and she looked on the prosperity of her old ac- 
quaintance as a means to her own betterment. It 
was but another instance of the old crime of "black- 
mail." She sent to the former Mary East for a loan 
of £10, intimating that if the latter did not send it 
she would make known the secret of her sex. The 
poor panic-stricken woman foolishly complied with 
the demand, thus forcing herself deeper into the 
mire of the other woman's unscrupulousness. The 



WOMEN AS MEN 245 

forced loan, together with Bently's fears for her 
own misdeed procured immunity for some fifteen 
years from further aggression. At the end of that 
time, however, under the renewed pressure of need 
Bently repeated her demand. "James How" had 
not the sum by her, but she sent £5— another link 
in the chain of her thraldom. 

From that time on there was no more peace for 
poor Mary East. Her companion of nearly thirty- 
five years died and she, having a secret to guard 
and no assistance being possible, was more helpless 
than ever and more than ever under the merciless 
yoke of the blackmailer. Mrs. Bently had a fair 
idea of how to play her own despicable game. As 
her victim's fear was her own stock-in-trade she 
supplemented the sense of fear which she knew to 
exist by a conspiracy strengthened by all sorts of 
schemes to support its seeming bona fides. She 
took in two male accomplices and, thus enforced, 
began operations. Her confederates called on 
James How, one armed with a constable's staff, the 
other appearing as one of the "thief -takers" of the 
gang of the notorious magistrate, Fielding — an 
evil product of an evil time. Having confronted 
How they told him that they had come by order of 
Mr. Justice Fielding to arrest him for the com- 
mission of a robbery over forty years before, alleg- 
ing that they were aware of his being a woman. 
Mary East, though quite innocent of any such of- 
fence but acutely conscious of her imposture of 



246 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

manhood, in her dismay sought the aid of a friend 
called Williams who understood and helped her. 
He went to the magistrates of the district and then 
to Sir John Fielding to make inquiries and claim 
protection. During his absence the two villains 
took Mary East from her house and by threats se- 
cured from her a draft on Williams for £100. 
With this in hand they released their victim who 
was even more anxious than themselves not to let 
the matter have greater publicity than it had al- 
ready obtained. However, Justice demanded a 
further investigation, and one of the men being 
captured — the other had escaped — was tried, and 
being found guilty, was sentenced to imprisonment 
for four years together with four appearances in 
the pillory. 

Altogether Mary East and her companion had 
lived together as husband and wife for nearly 
thirty-five years, during which time they had hon- 
estly earned, and by self-denial saved, over four 
thousand pounds sterling and won the good opinion 
of all with whom they had come in contact. They 
were never known to cook a joint of meat for their 
own use, to employ any help, or to entertain private" 
friends in their house. They were cautious, care- 
ful, and discreet in every way and seemed to live 
their lives in exceeding blamelessness. 



VIII. HOAXES, ETC 



VIII. HOAXES, ETC. 

THERE is a class of imposture which must 
be kept apart from others of its kind, or at 
least ear-marked in such wise that there 
can be no confusion of ideas regarding it. This in- 
cludes all sorts of acts which, though often attended 
with something of the same result as other efforts 
to mislead, are yet distinguished from them by in- 
tention. They have — whatever may be their re- 
sults — a jocular and humorous intention. Such 
performances are called hoaxes. These, though 
amusing to their perpetrators and to certain sport- 
ive persons, and though generally causing a due 
amount of pain and loss to those on whom they are 
inflicted, usually escape the condign and swift pun- 
ishment which they deserve. It is generally held 
that humour, like charity, covereth a multitude of 
sins. So be it. We are all grateful for a laugh 
no matter who may suffer. 

A. TWO LONDON HOAXES 

Not many years ago, in one of the popular 
dairy-refreshment shops in Holborn, the prim 
manageress and her white-capped waitresses 
were just commencing their day's work when 
a couple of sturdy green-aproned men swooped 

249 



250 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

down on the place from a large pantechnicon 
van, and to the amazement of the young ladies 
commenced to clear the shop. 

"There you are Bill. Hand up them chairs, and 
look slippy." 

"Right o', mate." 

"Good gracious me, what are you men doing?" 
shrieked the alarmed manageress. 

"Doing, miss, doing? Why moving the furni- 
ture. This is the lot ain't it?" 

"No, no, no; there must be some mistake. You 
must have come to the wrong place." 

"Mistake, wrong place? No miss. 'Ere, look 
where's that letter?" And Jack placed a begrimed 
document before the lady. 

The letter seemed right enough. It read beauti- 
fully, a plain direction to clear the shop and remove 
the stuff elsewhere; it only lacked the official head- 
ing of the company. But the joint inspection was 
rudely broken in upon by the arrival of a couple of 
the knights of the brush who had come "to do the 
chimbley, maam" ; and ere they could be disposed of 
vans of coals began to draw up, more pantechni- 
cons, more sweeps, loads of furniture, butchers with 
prime joints, plump birds from the poulterers, fish 
of every conceivable kind, noisy green-grocer boys, 
staggering under huge loads of vegetables ; florists 
"to decorate," gasfitters, carpenters "to take down 
the counter, miss" ; others "to put it up." 



HOAXES 251 

Pandemonium is quiet compared with that shop. 
The poor manageress was in tears, deafened with 
the exasperated, swearing representatives of, ap- 
parently, all the tradesmen for miles around. The 
thing had been well done. No sooner had the pro- 
vision merchants worked clear and the streams of 
vans, waggons and carts been backed away to the 
accompaniment of much lurid language, than ladies 
began to arrive with boxes of mysterious long 
garments which, they assured the indignant lady 
in charge, they were instructed were urgently 
needed for an event they referred to as "interest- 
ing." There was no monotony, for fast and furi- 
ous — very furious sometimes — came other maidens 
laden with more boxes and still more boxes, filled 
with costumes, bonnets, and other creations dear to 
the feminine mind. Then came servants "in an- 
swer to your advertisement, madam." They 
flocked in from all directions, north, south, east and 
west. Never was seen such a concourse of serv- 
ants: dignified housekeepers, housemaids, parlour- 
maids, and every other sort of maid, seemed to be 
making for that unfortunate manageress. Sleek- 
looking butlers popped in, as uniformed nurses 
popped out. Window-cleaners had to be torn from 
the windows they insisted they had got orders to 
clean; carpet beaters sought carpets which did not 
exist. Never had mortal — aye and immortal — re- 
quirements been thought out with more thoughtful 
care. From the needs of the unborn baby, to the 



252 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

"poor departed one," whom melancholy gentlemen 
in seedy black came to measure, all were remem- 
bered, and the man for whose especial benefit pre- 
sumably were intended beautiful wreaths, crosses, 
harps, etc., which kept constantly arriving. 
Throughout that live-long day to the "dewy eve" 
beloved of the poet the game went merrily on. 

As a hoax the thing was worked for all it was 
worth. Not only had shoals of letters evidently 
been sent out, but advertisements, too, had been 
freely distributed among the press. Needless to 
say that, despite the closest investigations, its 
author or authors, discreetly silent, remained un- 
known. 

The joke was not new by any means. Well 
nigh a century before mischief-loving Theodore 
Hook had stirred all London by a similar prank — 
the famous Berners Street Hoax. In those days 
Berners Street was a quiet thoroughfare inhabited 
by fairly well-to-do families. Indeed it was this 
very sedate quietness which drew upon it Hook's 
unwelcome attention. Fixing on one of the houses, 
which happened to be adorned with a brass plate, he 
made a wager with a brother wag that he would 
cause that particular house to become the talk of the 
town : and he certainly did — for not only the town, 
but all England shrieked with laughter when the re- 
sult of his little manoeuvre became known. 

One morning, soon after breakfast, waggons 
laden with coals began to draw up before the house 



HOAXES 253 

with the brass plate, No. 54. These were quickly 
succeeded with tradespeople by the dozen with vari- 
ous commodities. These in turn were followed by 
van loads of furniture ; followed by a hearse with a 
coffin and a number of mourning coaches. Soon 
the street became choked : for, what with the goods 
dumped down as near as possible to the house — 
pianos, organs, and cart loads of furniture of all 
descriptions, the anxious tradesmen, and the laugh- 
ing mob of people quickly attracted to the scene, 
confusion reigned supreme. About this time the 
Lord Mayor and other notabilities began to arrive 
in their carriages. His Lordship's stay was short. 
He was driven to Marlborough Street police office 
where he informed the magistrate that he had 
received a note purporting to come from Mrs. T., 
the victimised widow resident at No. 54, saying she 
was confined to her room and begging his lordship 
to do her the favour of calling on her on impor- 
tant business. Meanwhile, the trouble in Berners 
Street was growing serious, and officers belonging 
to the Marlborough Street office were at once sent 
to keep order. For a time even they were helpless. 
Never was such a strange meeting: barbers with 
wigs; mantlemakers with band-boxes; opticians 
with their various articles of trade. Presently 
there arrived a couple of fashionable physicians, an 
accoucheur, and a dentist. There were clockmak- 
ers, carpet manufacturers and wine merchants, all 
loaded with specimens of their trade; brewers with 



254 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

barrels of ale, curiosity dealers with sundry knick- 
knacks; cartloads of potatoes; books, prints, jew- 
ellery, feathers and furbelows of all kinds ; ices and 
jellies; conjuring tricks; never was such a conglom- 
eration. Then, about five o'clock servants of all 
kinds began to troop in to apply for situations. 
For a time the police officers were powerless. 
Vehicles were jammed and interlocked; the exas- 
perated drivers were swearing, and the disap- 
pointed tradesmen were maddened by the malicious 
fun of the crowd who were enjoying the joke. 
Some of the vans were overturned and many of the 
tradesmens' goods came to grief ; while some of the 
casks of ale became the prey of the delighted spec- 
tators. All through the day and late into the night 
this extraordinary state of things continued, to the 
dismay and terror of the poor lady and the other in- 
mates of the house with the brass plate. 

Theodore Hook had taken precautions to secure 
a good seat for the performance, having taken fur- 
nished-apartments just opposite the house of his 
victim, where he posted himself with one or two 
companions to enjoy the scene. Hook's connection 
with the mad joke was, fortunately for him, not 
known until long afterwards; it seems he had de- 
voted three or four whole days to writing the let- 
ters, all couched in ladylike style. In the end the 
novelist seems to have been rather frightened at 
the result of his little joke, for he made a speedy 
departure to the country; and there is no doubt 



HOAXES 255 

that, had he been publicly known as its author, he 
would have fared badly. 

B. THE CAT HOAX 

One very amusing variation of the countless 
imitations, which the success of this trick gave 
rise to, was the "cat hoax" at Chester, in August, 
1815. It was at the time when it had been 
determined to send Napoleon to St. Helena. 
One morning, a number of hand bills were dis- 
tributed in and around Chester, stating that, owing 
to the island of St. Helena being invested with rats, 
the government required a number of cats for de- 
portation. Sixteen shillings were offered for 
"every athletic full-grown torn cat, ten shillings for 
every adult female puss, and a half-crown for 
every thriving kitten that could swill milk, pursue 
a ball of thread, or fasten its young fangs in a 
dying mouse." An address was given at which 
the cats were to be delivered; but it proved to be 
an empty house. The advertisement resulted in 
the victimisation of hundreds of people. Men, 
women, and children streamed into the city from 
miles around laden with cats of every description. 
Some hundreds were brought in, and the scene be- 
fore the door of the empty house is said to have 
baffled description. When the hoax was discov- 
ered many of the cats were liberated ; the following 
morning no less than five hundred dead cats were 
counted floating down the river Dee. 



256 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

C. THE MILITARY REVIEW 

Practical jokes of this nature have more than 
once led to serious results. In the summer of 
1812 a report was extensively circulated that 
a grand military review was to be held on the 
19th of June. Booths were erected and as many 
as twenty thousand people assembled, despite 
the efforts of the authorities who, when they 
learned what was happening, posted men in the 
several roads leading to the heath to warn the peo- 
ple that they had been hoaxed. But their efforts 
were useless. The rumour was believed and the 
contradiction ignored; vehicles, horsemen and 
pedestrians pushed on to their destination. When, 
however, the day wore on without any appearance 
of the promised military pageant, the crowd grew 
angry and then broke out in acts of violence. The 
heath was set on fire. Messengers were sent off 
express to London, and a detachment of the guards 
had to be marched down to quell the mob. In the 
disorder one poor woman was thrown out of a chaise 
and picked up in an unconscious condition. 

D. THE TOLL-GATE 

Many distinguished actors have been very 
fond of playing practical jokes and perpetra- 
ting hoaxes. Young, the tragedian, was one 
day driving in a gig with a friend on the out- 
skirts of London. Pulling up at a turn-pike 



HOAXES 257 

gate he noticed the name of the toll-collector 
written up over the door. Calling to him the 
woman, the wife of that functionary, who appeared 
to be in charge of the gate, he politely told her that 

he particularly wished to see Mr. , naming the 

toll-collector, on a matter of importance. Im- 
pressed by Young's manner, she promptly sent for 
her husband, who was working in a neighbouring 
field. Hastily washing himself and putting on a £>*A «- 
clean coat he presented himself. The actor gravely Ja^aaJlm 
said: "I paid for a ticket at the last gate, and was ®i 
told that it would free me through this one. As I 
wish to be scrupulously exact, will you kindly tell #< A i" 
me whether such is the case?" "Why of course it ^ 

is?" "Can I then pass through without paying?" -%%£, 
The toll-collector's reply and his vituperation as 
the travellers passed on had better, perhaps, be left 
to the imagination. 

E. THE MARRIAGE HOAX 

Hoaxes are sometimes malicious, and often 
cruel, as the following instance will show: A 
young couple were about to be married in 
Birmingham when those officiating — it was a 
Jewish wedding — were startled by the delivery 
of a telegram from London with the message: 
"Stop marriage at once. His wife and children 
have arrived in London and will come on to Bir- 
mingham." The bride fainted and the bridegroom 
was frantically perturbed at thus summarily being 



258 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

provided with a wife and family. But it was use- 
less ; the unhappy man had to make the best of his 
way through an exasperated crowd full of sym- 
pathy for the wronged girl. Inquiry, however, 
showed her friends that the whole thing was a hoax 
— possibly worked by some revengeful rival of the 
man whose happiness had been so unexpectedly 
deferred. 

F. BURIED TREASURE 

Most people have heard of the "Spanish Treas- 
ure swindle" and, though less elaborate than the 
original, a variation of it practised on a French 
merchant was rather "cute." One morning he 
received an anonymous communication advising 
him that a box of treasure was buried in his 
garden the exact position of which would be 
pointed out to him, if he agreed to divide the 
spoil. He rose at once to the bait, met his 
generous informant, and before long the pair were 
merrily at work with pickaxe and shovel. Sure 
enough before long their exertions were awarded 
by the unearthing of a box full of silver coins. 
The hoard proved to consist of sixteen hundred 
five-franc pieces ; and the delighted merchant, after 
carefully counting them out into two piles, offered 
one lot to his partner as his share. That worthy, 
after contemplating the heap for a minute or two, 
observed that it would be rather a heavy load to 
carry to the railway station, and said he would pre- 



HOAXES 259 

fer, if it could be managed, to have the amount in 
gold or notes. "Certainly, certainly!" was the 
reply. The two men walked up to the house and 
the business was settled to their mutual satisfac- 
tion. Twenty-four hours later, the merchant took 
a very different view of the transaction ; for exami- 
nation discovered there was not one genuine five- 
franc piece among the whole lot. 

G. DEAN SWIFT'S HOAX 

One of the most beautiful hoaxes ever per- 
petrated was one for which Swift was responsible. 
He caused a broad-sheet to be printed and cir- 
culated which purported to be the "last dying 
speech" of one Elliston, a street robber, in 
which the condemned thief was made to say: 
"Now as I am a dying man, I have done some- 
thing which may be of use to the public. I have 
left with an honest man — the only honest man I 
was ever acquainted with — the names of all my 
wicked brethren, the places of their abode, with a 
short account of the chief crimes they have commit- 
ted, in many of which I have been their accomplice, 
and heard the rest from their own mouths. I have 
likewise set down names of those we call our setters, 
of the wicked houses we frequent, and all of those 
who receive and buy our stolen goods. I have 
solemnly charged this honest man, and have received 
his promise upon oath, that whenever he hears of 
any rogue to be tried for robbery or housebreaking, 



260 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

he will look into his list, and if he finds the name 
there of the thief concerned, to send the whole paper 
to the Government. Of this I here give my com- 
panions fair and public warning, and hope they will 
take it." So successful, we are told, was the Dean's 
ruse that, for many years afterwards, street rob- 
beries were almost unknown. 

H. HOAXED BURGLARS 

The above ingenious device recalls another 
occasion when some gentlemen who made bur- 
glary their profession, and who had been pay- 
ing a midnight visit to the house of a Hull 
tradesman were sadly "sold." They found the 
cash-box lying handy, and, to their delight, weighty ; 
so heavy indeed that they did not stay to help them- 
selves to anything further. Next morning the 
cash-box was found not far from the shop and its 
contents in an ash-pit close by. After all the 
trouble they had taken, to say nothing of the risks 
they had run, the burglars found their prize con- 
sisted only of a lump of lead, and that their intended 
victim had been too artful for them. 

I. BOGUS SAUSAGES 

As an example of how a dishonest penny may 
be turned the following incident would be hard to 
beat. 

Two wear}'- porters at the King's Cross terminus 
of the Great Northern Railway were thinking 



HOAXES 261 

about going home, when a breathless, simple-look- 
ing countryman rushed up to them with anxious 
enquiries for a certain train. It had gone. He 
was crushed. "Whatever was he to do? He had 
been sent up from Cambridge with a big hamper 
of those sausages for which the University town is 
celebrated — a very special order. Was there no 
other train?" "No." The poor fellow seemed 
overwhelmed. "As it is too late to find another 
market," he complained, "the whole lot will be lost." 
Then a happy thought seemed to strike him as more 
of the railway men gathered round, and he inquired 
ingratiatingly, "Would you care to buy the sau- 
sages ; if you would, you could have them for four- 
pence a pound? If I keep them, they will prob- 
ably go bad before I can dispose of them." The 
idea took — "Real Cambridge Sausages" at four- 
pence a pound was not to be sneezed at. The 
dainties, neatly packed in pounds, went like the 
proverbial hot cakes. Shouldering the empty 
basket, and bidding his customers a kindly good- 
night, the yokel set off to find a humble lodging 
for the night. Grateful smiles greeted the pur- 
chasers when they got home. Frying pans were 
got out and the sausages were popped in, and never 
was such a sizzling heard in the railway houses — or 
rather never should such a sizzling have been heard. 
But somehow they didn't sizzle. "They are uncom- 
mon dry ; seem to have no fat in 'em," said the puz- 
zled cook. They Mere dry, very dry, for closer 



262 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

investigation showed that the "prime Cambridge" 
were nothing but skins stuffed with dry bread! 
The railway staff of King's Cross were long anx- 
ious to meet that simple countryman from Cam- 
bridge. 

J. THE MOON HOAX 

One of the most stupendous hoaxes, and one 
foisted on the credulity of the public with the 
most complete success, was the famous Moon 
Hoax which was published in the pages of 
the New York Sun in 1835. It purported to be 
an account of the great astronomical discoveries of 
Sir John Herschel at the Cape of Good Hope, 
through the medium of a mighty telescope, a single 
lens of which weighed nearly seven tons. It was 
stated to be reproduced from the Supplement to 
the Edinburgh Journal of Science, though as a 
matter of fact, the Journal had then been defunct 
some years. In graphic language, and with a 
wealth of picturesque detail, the wonders of the 
Moon as revealed to the great astronomer and his 
assistants were set forth. A great inland sea was 
observed, and "fairer shores never angel coasted on 
a tour of pleasure." The beach was "of brilliant 
white sand, girt with wild castellated rocks appar- 
ently of green marble, varied at chasms, occurring 
every two hundred feet, with grotesque blocks of 
chalk or gypsum, and feathered and festooned at 
the summit with the clustering foliage of unknown 



HOAXES 263 

trees." There were hills of amethysts "of a diluted 
claret colour"; mountains fringed with virgin gold; 
herds of brown quadrupeds resembling diminutive 
bison fitted with a sort of "hairy veil" to protect 
their eyes from the extremes of light and darkness ; 
strange monsters — a combination of unicorn and 
goat; pelicans, cranes, strange amphibious crea- 
tures, and a remarkable biped beaver. The last 
was said to resemble the beaver of the earth ex- 
cepting that it had no tail and walked only upon 
its two feet. It carried its young in its arms like 
a human-being, and its huts were constructed better 
and higher than those of many savage tribes; and, 
from the smoke, there was no doubt it was 
acquainted with the use of fire. Another remark- 
able animal observed, was described as having an 
amazingly long neck, a head like a sheep, bearing 
two spiral horns, a body like a deer, but with its 
fore-legs disproportionately long as also its tail 
which was very bushy and of a snowy whiteness, 
curling high over its rump and hanging two or 
three feet by its side. 

But even these marvels fade into insignificance 
compared with the discovery of the lunarian men 
"four feet in height, covered, except on the face, 
with short and glossy copper-coloured hair, with 
wings composed of a thin membrane." "In gen- 
eral symmetry they were infinitely superior to the 
orang-outang" — which statement could hardly have 
been regarded as complimentary; and, though de- 



264 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

scribed as "doubtless innocent and happy creatures," 
the praise was rather discounted by the mention 
that some of their amusements would "but ill com- 
port with our terrestrial notions of decorum." In 
the "Vale of the Triads," with beautiful temples 
built of polished sapphire, a superior race of the 
punariant were found, "eminently happy and even 
polite," eating gourds and red cucumbers; and fur- 
ther afield yet another race of the vespertilio-homo, 
or man-bat, were seen through the wonderful tele- 
scope of "infinitely greater personal beauty . . . 
scarcely less lovely than the general representation 
of angels." 

Such were a few of the marvels told of in the 
Moon story; and, though one may laugh at them 
as they stand, shorn of their clever verbiage and 
quasi-scientific detail, at the time of publication they 
were seriously accepted, for the popular mind, even 
among the educated classes, was then imbued with 
the fanciful anticipators of vast lunar discoveries 
heralded in the astronomical writings of Thomas 
Dick, LL.D., of the Union College of New York. 
Scarcely anything could have been brought forward 
too extravagant for the general credulity on the 
subject then prevailing; and this well-timed satire, 
"out-heroding Herod" in its imaginative creations, 
supplied to satiety the morbid appetite for scien- 
tific wonders then raging. >By its plausible display 
of scientific erudition it successfully duped, with 
few exceptions, the whole civilised world. 



HOAXES 265 

At the time, the hoax was very generally attrib- 
uted to a French astronomer, M. Nicollet, a legit- 
imist who fled to America in 1830. He was said to 
have written it with the twofold object of raising 
the wind, and of "taking in" Arago, a rival astron- 
omer. But its real author was subsequently found 
to be Richard Adams Locke, who declared that his 
original intention was to satirise the extravagances 
of Dick's writings, and to make certain sugges- 
tions which he had some diffidence in putting for- 
ward seriously. Whatever may have been his 
object, the work, as a hit, was unrivalled. For 
months the press of America and Europe teemed 
with the subject; the account was printed and pub- 
lished in many languages and superbly illustrated. 
But, finally, Sir John Herschel's signed denial gave 
the mad story its quietus. 



IX. CHEVALIER D'EON, 



IX. THE CHEVALIER D'EON 

IN all the range of doubtful personalities there 
is hardly any one whom convention has treated 
worse than it has the individual known in his 
time — and after — as The Chevalier d'Eon. For 
about a hundred and fifty years he has been written 
of — and spoken of for the first half century of 
that time — simply as a man who masqueraded in 
woman's clothes. There seems to be just sufficient 
truth in this to save certain writers on the subject 
from the charge of deliberate lying — a record which, 
even if it is to be posthumous, no man of integrity 
aims at; but it is abundantly evident that the 
rumour, which in time became a charge, was orig- 
inally set on foot deliberately by his political ene- 
mies, who treated him and his memory without either 
consideration or even the elements of honourable 
truth. To begin with, here are the facts of his 
long life. 

Charles- Genevieve — Louis-Auguste-Andre — 
Timothee d'Eon de Beaumont was born in 1728 
in Tonnerre in Yonne, a department of France in 
the old province of Burgundy. His father, Louis 
d'Eon, was a parliamentary barrister. As a youth 
he was so apt in his studies at the College Mazarin 
that he received by special privilege his degree of 

269 



270 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Doctor in Canon and Civil Law before the age 
appointed for the conferring of such honour, and 
was then enrolled in the list of parliamentary bar- 
risters in Paris. At first he had been uncertain 
which department of life he should undertake. He 
swayed on one side towards the church, on the other 
towards the world of letters and beaux-arts. He 
was by habit an athlete, and was so good a swords- 
man that later on he had no rival in fencing except 
the Chevalier de Saint-George. In his twenty- 
fifth year he published two remarkable books. One 
was on the political administration of ancient and 
modern people, and the other on Phases of Finance 
in France at different times. ( The latter was aft- 
erwards published in German at Berlin in 1774, and 
so impressed the then King of Prussia that he gave 
orders that its ideas were to be carried into prac- 
tical effect.) 

In 1755 the Prince de Conti, to whose notice the 
Chevalier had been brought by the above books, 
asked the king (Louis XV) to send him to Russia 
on a secret mission with the Chevalier Douglas; 
and from that time till the king's death in 1774 he 
was his trusted, loyal agent and correspondent. 
D 'Eon's special mission was to bring the courts 
of France and Rusisa closer than had been their 
wont, and also to obtain for the Prince de Conti, 
who was seeking the Dukedom of Finland and the 
Kingship of Poland, the favour of the Empress 
Elizabeth — a difficult task, which had already cost 




THE CHEVALIER D'EON 



THE CHEVALIER D'EON 271 

M. de Valcroissant a spell of imprisonment. In 
order to accomplish his mission, d'Eon disguised 
himself as a woman, and in this guise he was able 
to creep into the good graces of the Empress. He 
became her "reader" and was thus enabled to pre- 
pare her for the reception of the secret purposes of 
his king. In the following year he returned to 
France whence he was immediately sent again to 
St. Petersburg with the title of Secretary of Em- 
bassy. But this time he went in his man's clothes 
and as the brother of the pretended female reader. 
By this time he had been made a lieutenant of 
dragoons. He came in spite of the Russian Chan- 
cellor Bestuchef, who saw in the young soldier- 
diplomat "un subject dangereux et capable de 
boulverser Vempire." This time his real mission 
was to destroy in the mind of the Empress faith 
in Bestuchef, who was trying to hold the Russian 
army inactive and so deprive France of the advan- 
tages of the Treaty of Versailles. This he did so 
well that he was in a position to prove to the Em- 
press that her chancellor had betrayed her interests. 
Bestuchef was arrested and his post conferred on 
Count Woronzow, whose attitude was altogether 
favourable to France. The gratitude of King 
Louis was shewn by his making d'Eon a captain 
of dragoons and conferring on him a pension of . 
2400 livres ; he was also made censor of history and 
literature. D'Eon threw himself with his accus- 
tomed zeal into the service of the army and distin- 



272 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

guished himself by his courage in the battles of 
Hoecht ; of Ultrop, where he was wounded ; of Eim- 
bech where he put the Scotch to flight; and of Os- 
terkirk, where at the head of 80 dragoons and 20 
hussars he overthrew a battalion of the enemy. 

No better conventional proof of the accepted idea 
of d'Eon's military worthiness can be given than 
the frequency and importance of the occasions on 
which he was honoured by the carrying of des- 
patches. He brought news of his successful nego- 
tiations for the peace of Versailles from Vienna in 
1757. He was also sent with the Ratification of 
the Treaty. He carried the despatches of the great 
victory of the troops of Maria Theresa, forestalling 
the Austrian courier by a day and a half, although 
he had a broken leg. 

When next sent to Russia, d'Eon was sent as 
minister plenipotentiary, an office which he held up 
to 1762 when to the regret of the Empress he was 
recalled. When he was leaving, Woronzow, the 
successor of Bestuchef, said to him, "I am sorry 
you are going, although your first journey with 
Chevalier Douglas cost my sovereign 250,000 men 
and more than 5,000,000 roubles." D'Eon an- 
swered: "Your excellency ought to be happy that 
your sovereign and his minister have gained more 
glory and reputation than any others in the world." 
On his return d'Eon was appointed to the regi- 
ment d'Autchamp and gazetted as adjutant to 
Marshal de Broglie. Then he was sent to Russia 



THE CHEVALIER D'EON 273 

for the fourth time as minister plenipotentiary in 
place of Baron de Breuteuil. But Peter III was 
dethroned, so the out-going Ambassador remained 
in Russia, and d'Eon went to England as secretary 
to the Embassy of the Duke de Nivernais in 1762. 

After the Peace of 1763 d'Eon was chosen by the 
King of England to carry the despatches. He re- 
ceived for this office the Star of St. Louis from 
the breast of the king, who on giving it said it was 
for the bravery which he had displayed as a soldier, 
and for the intelligence which he had shown in the 
negotiations between London and St. Petersburg. 

At this time all went well with him. But his 
good fortune was changed by the bitter intrigues of 
his enemies. He was devoted to the king, but had, 
almost as a direct consequence, the enmity of the 
courtesans who surrounded him and wished for the 
opportunity of plucking him at their leisure. He 
had an astonishing knowledge on all matters of 
finance, and apprised the king privately of secret 
matters which his ministers tried to hide from him. 
The Court had wind of that direct correspondence 
with his majesty and therewith things were so man- 
aged that the diplomatist got into trouble. 
Madame de Pompadour surprised the direct cor- 
respondence between the king and d'Eon, with the 
result that the latter was persecuted by the jealous 
courtiers who intrigued, until in 1765 he was 
replaced at the Embassy of London by the 
Count de Guerchy and he himself became the 



274 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

mark for all sorts of vexations and persecutions. 
His deadly enemy, the Count de Guerchy, tried 
to have him poisoned, but the attempt failed. 
D'Eon took legal steps to punish the attempt; 
but every form of pressure was used to keep the 
case out of Court. An attempt was made to 
get the Attorney General to enter a nolle 
prosequi; but he refused to lend himself to 
the scheme, and sent the matter to the Court 
of King's Bench. There, despite all the difficulties 
of furthering such a charge against any one so pro- 
tected as an ambassador, it was declared on trial 
that the accused was guilty of the crime charged 
against him. De Guerchy accordingly had to re- 
turn to France; but d'Eon remained in England, 
though without employment. To console him King 
Louis gave him in 1766 a pension of 12,000 livres, 
and assured him that though he was ostensibly ex- 
iled this was done to cover up the protection 
extended to him. D'Eon, according to the report 
of the time, was offered a bribe of 1,200,000 livres, 
to give up certain state papers then in his custody; 
but to his honour he refused. Be the story as it 
may, d'Eon up to the time of the death of Louis 
(1774) continued to be in London the real repre- 
sentative of France, though without any formal 
appointment. 

During this time one of the means employed with 
success by his enemies to injure the reputation of 
d'Eon, was to point out that he had passed himself 



THE CHEVALIER D'EON 275 

as a woman; the disguise he wore on his first visit 
to Russia. His clean shaven face, his personal 
niceties, the correctness of his life, all came to the 
aid of that supposition. In England bets were 
made and sporting companies formed for the pur- 
pose of verifying his sex. Designs were framed 
for the purpose of carrying him off in order to 
settle the vexed question by a personal examination. 
Some of the efforts he had to repel by violence. 
In 1770 and in 1772 his friends tried to arrange 
that he should be allowed to return to France; but 
he refused all offers as the Ministers insisted on 
making it a condition of his return that he should 
wear feminine apparel. After the accession of 
Louis XVI he obtained leave to return, free from 
the embarrassing restraint hitherto demanded. As 
he was overwhelmed with debts he placed as a 
guarantee in the hands of Lord Ferrers an iron 
casket containing important French state papers. 
The minister sent Beaumarcheus to redeem them, 
and in 1771 the Chevalier returned to France. He 
presented himself at Versailles in his full uniform 
of a captain of dragoons. The Queen (Marie 
Antoinette) however, wished to see him presented 
in female dress; so the Minister implored him to 
meet her wishes. He consented ; and thenceforward 
not only wore women's clothes but called himself 
"La Chevaliere d'Eon." In a letter addressed by 
him to Madame de Stael during the French revo- 
lution he spoke of himself as "citizeness of the New 



276 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Republic of France, and of the old Republic of 
Literature." On 2nd September, 1777 he wrote 
to the Count de Maurepas, "Although I detest 
changes of costume, yet they are hard at work at 
Mademoiselle Bertin's on my future and doleful 
dress, which however I shall cut in pieces at the first 
sound of the cannon shots." As a matter of fact 
when war with England became imminent he de- 
manded to be allowed to take in the army the posi- 
tion which he had won by bravery and as the price 
of honourable wounds. The only reply he got was 
his immurement for two months in the Castle of 
Dijon. In 1784 he returned to England, which he 
never again left. In vain he appealed to the Con- 
vention and then to the First Consul to be allowed 
to place his sword at the service of his country; but 
his prayer was not listened to. Used to the practice 
of the sword, his circumstances being desperate, he 
then found in it a source of income. He gave in 
public, assaults-at-arms with the Chevalier de Saint- 
George, one of the most notable fencers of his time. 
At length he was given a small pension, £40, by 
George III, on which he subsisted during the re- 
mainder of his life. He died 23rd May, 1810. 

In very fact Chevalier d'Eon is historically a 
much injured man. His vocation was that of a 
secret-service agent of a nation surrounded with 
enemies, and to her advantage he used his rare pow- 
ers of mind and body. He was a very gallant 
soldier, who won distinction in the field and was 



THE CHEVALIER D'EON 277 

wounded several times; and in his endurance and 
his indifference to pain whilst carrying despatches 
of overwhelming importance he set an example that 
any soldier might follow with renown. As a states- 
man and diplomatist, and by the use of his faculties 
of inductive ratiocination, he averted great dangers 
from his country. If there were nothing else to his 
credit he might well stand forth as a diplomatist 
who had by his own exertions overthrown a dis- 
honest Russian Chancellor and an unscrupulous 
French Ambassador. Of course, as he was an 
agent of secret service, he had cognisance of much 
political and international scheming which he had 
at times to frustrate at the risk of all which he held 
dear. But, considering the time he lived in, and 
the dangers which he was always in the thick of, 
in a survey of his life the only thing a reader can 
find fault with is his yielding to the base idea of 
the flighty-minded Marie Antoinette. What, to 
this irresponsible butterfly of fashion, was the hon- 
our of a brave soldier or the reputation of an acute 
diplomatist who had deserved well of his country. 
Of course to her any such foolery as that to which 
she condemned d'Eon was but the fancy of an idle 
moment. But then the fancies of queens at idle 
moments may be altogether destructive to someone. 
That they may be destructive to themselves is shown 
in the record of the terrible atrocities of the Revo- 
lution which followed hard on the luxurious mas- 
querades of Trianon and Versailles. Even to the 



278 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Queen of France, the Chevalier d'Eon should have 
been something of a guarded, if not an honoured, 
person. He was altogether a "king's man." He 
had been for many years the trusted and loyal serv- 
ant of more than one king; and from the king's 
immediate circle the proper consideration should 
have been shown. 

There is something pitiful in the spectacle of this 
old gentleman of nearly eighty years of age, who 
had in his time done so much, being compelled to 
earn a bare livelihood by the exploitation of the 
most sordid page in his history — a page turned more 
than half a century before, and then only turned 
at all in response to the call of public duty. 

In his retirement d'Eon showed more of his real 
nature than had been possible to him in the stren- 
uous days when he had to be always vigilant and 
ready at an instant's notice to conceal his intentions 
— his very thoughts. Here he showed a sensitive- 
ness with which even his friends did not credit him. 
He had been so long silent as to matters of his own 
concern that they had begun to think he had lost 
the faculty not only of making the thought known, 
but even of the thought itself. The following 
paragraph from the London Public Advertiser of 
Wednesday, 16th November, 1774, shows more of 
the real man than may be found in any of his 
business letters or diplomatic reports: — 

"The Chevalier d'Eon with justice complains of 
our public prints; they are eternally sending him to 



THE CHEVALIER D'EON 279 

France while he is in body and soul fixed in this 
country; they have lately confined him in the Bas- 
tille, when he fled to England as a country of 
liberty; and they lately made a Woman of him, 
when not one of his enemies dared to put his man- 
hood to the proof. He makes no complaints of 
the English Ladies." 

In an issue of the same paper 9th November, 
of the same year, it is mentioned that the lit. Hon. 
Lord Ferrars, Sir John Fielding, Messrs. Adding- 
ton, Wright and other worthy magistrates and 
gentlemen and their ladies did the Chevalier d'Eon 
the honour to dine with him in Brewer St., Golden 
Square (common proof that the Chevalier d'Eon 
is not confined in the Bastille). D'Eon was much 
too wily and too much accustomed to attack to allow 
diplomatic insinuations to pass unheeded. He was 
now beginning to apply his garnered experience to 
his own protection. 

From the above extract of 16th November one 
can note how the allegation as to his sex was begin- 
ning to rankle in the soldier's mind, and how an 
open threat of punishment is conveyed in diplomatic 
form. Indeed he had reason to take umbrage at 
the insinuation. More than once had attempts 
been made to carry him off for the purpose of 
settling bets by a humiliating personal scrutiny. 
From something of the same cause his friends on 
his death caused an autopsy to be made before sev- 
eral witnesses of position and repute. Amongst 



280 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

these were several surgeons including Pere Elisee, 
First Surgeon to Louis XVIII. The medical cer- 
tificate ran as follows : 

"Je certifie, par le present, avoir inspecte le corps 
du chevalier d'Eon, en presence de M. Adair, M. 
Wilson et du Pere Elysee, et avoir trouve les 
organs masculins parfaitement formes." 



X. THE BISLEY BOY 



X. THE BISLEY BOY 

A. PROLEGOMENON 

QUEEN ELIZABETH, the last of the 
House of Tudor, died unmarried. Since 
her death in 1603, there have been revolu- 
tions in England due to varying causes, but all 
more or less disruptive of family memories. The 
son of James I had his head cut off, and after the 
Commonwealth which followed, Charles I's son 
James II, had to quit on the coming of William 
III, by invitation. After William's death with- 
out issue, Anne, daughter of James II, reigned 
for a dozen years, and was succeeded by George I, 
descended through the female line from James I. 
His descendants still sit on the throne of England. 

NO DESCENDANTS 

The above facts are given not merely in the 
way of historical enlightenment but rather as a sort 
of apologetic prolegomenon to the ethical consid- 
eration of the matter immediately before us. Had 
Queen Elizabeth had any descendants, they need 
not have feared any discussion of her claims of de- 
scent. The issue of the legality of her mother's 
marriage had been tried exhaustively both before 

283 



284 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

and after her own birth, and she held the sceptre 
both by the will of her dead father and the consent 
of her dead half-sister who left no issue. But Queen 
Elizabeth, whatever her origin, would have been a 
sufficient ancestor for any King or any Dynasty. 
Still, had she left issue there might have been lesser 
people, descendants, whose feelings in the matter 
of personal and family pride would have required 
consideration ; and no person entering on an analysis 
of historical fact would have felt quite free-handed 
in such an investigation. 

B. THE QUEEN'S SECRET 

There are quite sufficient indications throughout 
the early life of Queen Elizabeth that there was 
some secret which she kept religiously guarded. 
Various historians of the time have referred to it, 
and now and again in a way which is enlightening. 

In a letter to the Protector Somerset in 1549, 
when the Princess Elizabeth was 15, Sir Robert 
Tyrwhitt says: 

"I do verily believe that there hath been some secret promise 
between my Lady, Mistress Ashley, and the Cofferer" [Sir 
Thomas Parry] never to confess to death, and if it be so, it 
will never be gotten of her, unless by the King's Majesty or 
else by your Grace." 

In his Girlhood of Queen Elizabeth Mr. Frank 
A. Mumby writes of this: — 

"Elizabeth was as loyal to Parry as to Mrs. Ashley; she re- 
instated him after a year's interval, in his office as Cofferer, 



THE BISLEY BOY 285 

and on her accession to the throne she appointed him Con- 
troller of the royal household. She continued to confer prefer- 
ment upon both Parry and his daughter to the end of their lives 
— "conduct," remarks Miss Strickland, "which naturally in- 
duces a suspicion that secrets of great moment had been con- 
fided to him — secrets that probably would have touched not 
only the maiden name of his royal Mistress, but placed her 
life in jeopardy, and that he had preserved these inviolate. 
The same may be supposed with respect to Mrs. Ashley, to 
whom Elizabeth clung with unshaken tenacity through every 
storm." 

Major Martin Hume in his Courtships of Queen 
Elizabeth says of the favourable treatment of the 
Governess and the Cofferer: — 

"The confessions of Ashley and Parry are bad enough; 
but they probably kept back more than they told, for on 
Elizabeth's accession and for the rest of their lives, they were 
treated with marked favour. Parry was knighted and made 
Treasurer of the Household, and on Mrs. Ashley's death in 
July 1565 the Queen visited her in person and mourned her 
with great grief." 

The same writer says elsewhere in the book : 

"Lady Harrington and Mrs. Ashley were, in fact, the only 
ladies about the Queen who were absolutely in her confi- 
dence." 

In a letter to the Doge of Venice in 1556 Gio- 
vanni Michiel wrote : 

"She" [Elizabeth] "I understand, having plainly said that 
she will not marry, even were they to give her the King's" 
[Philip of Spain] "son" [Don Carlos, Philip's son by his first 



286 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

wife] "or find any other great prince, I again respectfully re- 
mind your serenity to enjoin secrecy about this." 

Count de Feria wrote in April, 1559: 

"If my spies do not lie, which I believe they do not, for a 
certain reason which they have recently given me, I under- 
stand that she [Elizabeth] will not bear children." 

At this time Elizabeth was only 26 years of age. 

The following extract is taken from Mr. Mum- 
by's Girlhood of Queen Elizabeth in which is given 
the translation taken from Leti's La Vie d'Eliza- 
beth. The letter is from Princess Elizabeth to 
Lord Admiral Seymour, 1548 (apropos of his in- 
tentions regarding her) : — 

"It has also been said that I have only refused you because 
I was thinking of some one else. I therefore entreat you, my 
lord, to set your mind at rest on this subject, and to be per- 
suaded by this declaration that up to this time I have not the 
slightest intention of being married, and, that if ever I should 
think of it {which I do not believe is possible) you would be 
the first to whom I should make known my resolution." 

C. BISLEY 

The place known to the great public as Bisley 
is quite other than that under present consideration. 
Bisley, the ground for rifle competitions, is in Sur- 
rey, thoughtfully placed in juxtaposition to an 
eminent cemetery. It bears every indication of 
newness — so far as any locality of old earth can be 
new. 



THE BISLEY BOY 287 

But the other is the original place of the name, 
possessing a recorded history which goes back many- 
hundreds of years. It is in Gloucestershire high 
up on the eastern side of the Cotswold Hills at their 
southern end where they rise above the Little Avon 
which runs into the embouchure of the Severn to 
the Bristol Channel. The trace of Roman occupa- 
tion is all over that part of England. When the 
pioneers of that strenuous nation made their essay 
on Britain they came with the intention of staying ; 
and to-day their splendid roads remain unsurpassed 
— almost unsurpassable. In this part of the West 
Country there are several of them, of which the 
chief are Irmin (or Ermine) Street, running from 
Southampton through Cirencester and Gloucester 
to Caerleon, and Ikenild Street running from 
Cirencester, entering Gloucestershire at Eastleach. 
I am particular about these roads as we may require 
to notice them carefully. There is really but one 
Bisley in this part of the country, but the name is 
spelled so variously that the simple phonetic spell- 
ing might well serve for a nucleating principle. 
In all sorts of papers, from Acts of Parliament 
and Royal Charters down to local deeds of tenancy, 
it is thus varied — Bisleigh, Bistlegh, Byselegh, Bus- 
sely. In this part of the Cotswolds "Over" is a 
common part of a name which was formerly used 
as a prefix. Such is not always at once apparent 
for the modern cartographer seems to prefer the 
modern word "upper" as the prefix. Attention is 



288 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

merely called to it here as later on we shall have 
to consider it more carefully. 

The most interesting spot in the whole district 
is the house "Overcourt," which was once the 
manor-house of Bisley. It stands close to Bisley 
church from the grave-yard of which it is only sep- 
arated by a wicket-gate. The title-deeds of this 
house, which is now in possession of the Gordon 
family show that it was a part of the dower of 
Queen Elizabeth. But the world went by it, and 
little by little the estate of which it was a portion 
changed hands; so that now the house remains 
almost as an entity. Naturally enough, the young 
Princess Elizabeth lived there for a time; and one 
can still see the room she occupied. A medium- 
sized room with mullioned windows, having small 
diamond-shaped panes set in lead after the pattern 
of the Tudor period. A great beam of oak, not 
exactly "trued" with the adze but following the 
natural trend of the wood, crosses the ceiling. The 
window looks out on a little walled-in garden, one 
of the flower beds of which is set in an antique stone 
receptacle of oblong shape which presents some- 
thing of the appearance of a stone coffin of the 
earlier ages. Of this more anon. 

Whether at the time of the birth of Elizabeth 
the mansion of Overcourt was itself in the King's 
possession is a little difficult to fathom, for, in the 
Confession of Thomas Parry written in 1549 con- 
cerning a period a little earlier, it is said: "And I 



THE BISLEY BOY 289 

told her" [Princess Elizabeth] "further how he" 
[Lord Admiral Thomas Seymour] "would have 
had her to have lands in Gloucestershire called Bis- 
ley as in parcel of exchange, and in Wales." 

In addition to its natural desirability in the way; 
of hygiene and altitude there seems to have been 
a wish on the part of family advisers of those hav- 
ing estates in the vicinity of this place, to enlarge 
their possessions. This was wise enough, for in 
the disturbed state of affairs which ushered in the 
Tudor Dynasty, and the effects of which still con- 
tinued, it was of distinct benefit to have communities 
here and there large enough for self protection. 
This idea held with many of the families as well 
as individuals whose names are associated with Bis- 
ley. Henry VIII himself, as over-lord with own- 
ership derived from the Norman Conquest, had 
feudal claims on the de Bohuns who represented 
all the local possessions of the Dukedom of Glou- 
cester and the Earldoms of Essex Hereford and 
Northampton. Also the greedy eyes of certain 
strong men and families who had hopes that time 
and influence already existing, might later on bring 
them benefit, were fixed on this desirable spot. 
Thomas Seymour, the unscrupulous brother of the 
future Lord Protector, was high in influence in the 
early days of the Princess Elizabeth, and even then 
must have had ambitious designs of marrying her. 
On the death of Henry VIII he had, when Lord 
Sudeley, married the king's widow within a few 



290 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

months of her widowhood, and received a grant of 
the royal possession at Bisley which, on his attainder, 
passed on to Sir Anthony Kingston, who doubtless 
had already marked it down as an objective of his 
cupidity. 

The "Hundred of Bisley" was one of the seven 
of Cirencester which of old were farmed by the 
Abbey of Tewksbury. Its position was so full of 
possibilities of future development as to justify the 
acquisitive spirit of those who desired it. In its 
bounds were what is now the town of Stroud, as 
well as a whole line of mills which had in early 
days great effect as they were workable by both 
wind and water power, both of which were to be had 
in profusion. This little remote hamlet had a pro- 
gressive industry of its own in the shape of a manu- 
facture of woollen cloths. It also represented dye- 
ing in scarlet and was the place of origin of Giles 
Gobelin, a famous dyer who gave his name to the 
Gobelin tapestry. 

One other thing must be distinctly borne in mind 
regarding Bisley in the first half of the sixteenth 
century; it was comparatively easy of access from 
London for those who wished to go there. A line 
drawn on the map will show that on the way as 
points d'appui, were Oxford and Cirencester, both 
of which were surrounded with good roads as be- 
came their importance as centres. This line seems 
very short for its importance. To-day the jour- 
ney is that of a morning; and even in the time of 



THE BISLEY BOY 291 

He^nry VIII when horse traction was the only kind 
available, the points were not very distant as to time 
of traverse. To Henry, who commanded every- 
thing and had a myriad agents eager to display 
their energy in his service, all was simple ; and when 
he went a-hunting in the forests which made a net- 
work far around Berkeley Castle his objective 
could be easily won between breakfast and supper. 
There was not any difficulty therefore, and not too 
much personal strain, when he chose to visit his 
little daughter even though at the start one should 
be at Nether Lypiat and the other at Greenwich 
or Hatfield or Eltham. 

D. THE TRADITION 

The Tradition is that the little Princess Eliza- 
beth, during her childhood, was sent away with her 
governess for change of air to Bisley where the 
strong sweet air of the Cotswold Hills would brace 
her up. The healthy qualities of the place were 
known to her father and many others of those 
around her. Whilst she was at Overcourt, word 
was sent to her governess that the King was com- 
ing to see his little daughter; but shortly before 
the time fixed, and whilst his arrival was expected 
at any hour, a frightful catastrophe happened. The 
child, who had been ailing in a new way, developed 
acute fever, and before steps could be taken even 
to arrange for her proper attendance and nursing, 
she died. The governess feared to tell her father — 



292 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

Henry VIII had the sort of temper which did not 
make for the happiness of those around him. In 
her despair she, having hidden the body, rushed off 
to the village to try to find some other child whose 
body could be substituted for that of the dead prin- 
cess so that the evil moment of disclosure of the sad 
fact might be delayed till after His Majesty's de- 
parture. But the population was small and no girl 
child of any kind was available. The distracted 
woman then tried to find a living girl child who 
could be passed off for the princess, whose body 
could be hidden away for the time. 

Throughout the little village and its surround- 
ings was to be found no girl child of an age reason- 
ably suitable for the purpose required. More than 
ever distracted, for time was flying by, she deter- 
mined to take the greater risk of a boy substitute — 
if a boy could be found. Happily for the 
poor woman's safety, for her very life now 
hung in the balance, this venture was easy 
enough to begin. There was a boy available, 
and just such a boy as would suit the special 
purpose for which he was required — a boy well 
known to the governess, for the little Princess had 
taken a fancy to him and had lately been accus- 
tomed to play with him. Moreover, he was a pretty 
boy as might have been expected from the circum- 
stance of the little Lady Elizabeth having chosen 
him as her playmate. He was close at hand and 
available. So he was clothed in the dress of the 



THE BISLEY BOY 293 

dead child, they being of about equal stature; and 
when the King's fore-rider appeared the poor over- 
wrought governess was able to breathe freely. 

The visit passed off successfully. Henry sus- 
pected nothing; as the whole thing had happened 
so swiftly, there had been no antecedent anxiety. 
Elizabeth had been brought up in such dread of 
her father that he had not, at the rare intervals 
of his seeing her, been accustomed to any affection- 
ate effusiveness on her part ; and in his hurried visit 
he had no time for baseless conjecture. 

Then came the natural nemesis of such a decep- 
tion. As the dead could not be brought back to 
life, and as the imperious monarch, who bore no 
thwarting of his wishes, was under the impression 
that he could count on his younger daughter as a 
pawn in the great game of political chess which 
he had entered on so deeply, those who by now 
must have been in the secret did not and could not 
dare to make disclosure. Moreover the difficulties 
and dangers to one and all involved would of neces- 
sity grow with each day that passed. Willy nilly 
they must go on. Fortunately for the safety of 
their heads circumstances favoured them. The 
secret was, up to now, hidden in a remote village 
high up on the side of the Cotswold hills. Steep 
declivities guarded it from casual intrusion, and 
there was no trade beyond that occasional traffic 
necessary for a small agricultural community. The 
whole country as far as the eye could see was either 



294 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

royal domain or individual property owned or held 
by persons attached to the dynasty by blood or 
interest. 

Facilities of intercommunication were few and 
slow; and above all uncertain and therefore not to 
be relied on. 

This then was the beginning of the tradition 
which has existed locally ever since. In such dis- 
tricts change is slow, and what has been may well 
be taken, unless there be something to the contrary, 
for what is. The isolation of the hamlet in the 
Cotswolds where the little princess lived for a time 
— and is supposed to have died — is almost best 
exemplified by the fact that though the momentous 
secret has existed for between three and four cen- 
turies, no whisper of it has reached the great world 
without its confines. Not though the original sub- 
ject of it was the very centre of the wildest and 
longest battle which has ever taken place since the 
world began — polemical, dynastic, educational, in- 
ternational, commercial. Anyone living in any 
town in our own age, where advance and expansive- 
ness are matters of degree, not of fact, may find it 
hard to believe that any such story, nebulous though 
it may be, could exist unknown and unrecorded out- 
side a place so tiny that its most important details 
will not be found even on the ordnance map of an 
inch to the mile. But a visit to Bisley will set 
aside any such doubts. The place itself has hardly 



THE BISLEY BOY 295 

changed, in any measure to be apparent as a change, 
in the three centuries and more. The same build- 
ings stand as of yore ; the same estate wall, though 
more picturesque with lichen, and with individual 
stones corrugated by weather and dislocated by 
arboreal growths, speak of an epoch ending with 
the Tudor age. The doors of the great tithe-barns 
which remain as souvenirs of extinct feudalism, still 
yawn wide on their festered hinges. Nay, even the 
very trees show amongst their ranks an extraor- 
dinary percentage of giants which have withstood 
unimpaired all the changes that have been. 

Leaving busy and thriving Stroud, one climbs 
the long hill past Lipiat and emerges in the village, 
where time has suddenly ceased, and we find our- 
selves in the age and the surroundings which saw 
the House of York fade into the Tudor dynasty. 
Such a journey is almost a necessity for a proper 
understanding of the story of the Bisley Boy, which 
has by the effluxion of time attained to almost the 
grace and strength of a legend. It is quite possible 
that though the place has stood still, the tradition 
has not, for it is in the nature of intellectual growth 
to advance. One must not look on the Gloucester- 
shire people as sleepy — sleepiness is no character- 
istic of that breezy upland; but dreaming, whether 
its results be true or false, does not depend on sleep. 
In cases like the present, sleep is not to be looked 
on as a blood relation of death but rather as a pre- 



296 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

servative against the ravages of time — like the mys- 
terious slumber of King Arthur and others who are 
destined for renewal. 

It may be taken for granted that in course of 
time and under the process of purely oral communi- 
cation, the story told in whispers lost nothing in 
the way of romance or credibility ; that flaws or la- 
cunae were made good by inquiry ; and that recollec- 
tions of overlooked or forgotten facts were recalled 
or even supplemented by facile invention. But it 
may also be taken for granted that no statement 
devoid of a solid foundation could become perma- 
nently accepted. There were too many critics 
around, with memories unimpaired by overwork, to 
allow incorrect statements to pass unchallenged. 
There is always this in tradition, that the collective 
mind which rules in small communities is a child's 
mind, which must ever hold grimly on to fact. 
And that behind the child's mind is the child's na- 
ture which most delights in the recountal of what 
it knows, and is jealous of any addition to the story 
which is a part of its being. 

Major Martin Hume writes in his Courtships of 
Queen Elizabeth: 

"Elizabeth was only three when her mother's fall removed 
her from the line of the succession. ... In 1542, how- 
ever, the death of James V of Scotland and the simultaneous 
birth of his daughter Mary seemed to bring nearer Henry's 
idea of a union between the two crowns. He proposed to 
marry the baby Queen of Scots to his infant son and at the 



THE BISLEY BOY 297 

same time he offered the hand of Elizabeth (then nine) to a 
son of Arran — head of House of Hamilton, next heir to the 
Scottish crown. . . . Mary and Elizabeth were restored 
to their places in the line of succession. ... In January 
1547 Henry VIII died, leaving the succession to his two 
daughters in tail after Edward VI and his heirs. Queen 
Catherine (Parr) immediately married Sir Thomas Seymour, 
brother of Protector Somerset and uncle of the little king 
(Edward VI). To them was confided Princess Elizabeth 
then a girl of 14.' " 

Elizabeth was three in 1536. The story of the 
Bisley Boy dates probably to 1543-4. So that if 
the story have any foundation at all in fact, signs 
of a complete change of identity in the person of 
Princess Elizabeth must be looked for in the period 
of some seven or eight years which intervened. 

E. THE DIFFICULTY OF PROOF 

In such a case as that before us the difficulty of 
proof is almost insuperable. But fortunately we 
are dealing with a point not of law but of history. 
Proof is not in the first instance required, but only 
surmise, to be followed by an argument of proba- 
bility. Such records as still exist are all the proofs 
that can be adduced; and all we can do is to search 
for such records as still exist, without which we lack 
the enlightenment that waits on discovery. In the 
meanwhile we can deduce a just conclusion from 
such materials as we do possess. Failing certitude, 
which is under the circumstances almost impossible, 
we only arrive at probability; and with that until 



298 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

discovery of more reliable material we must be con- 
tent. 

Let us therefore sum up: first the difficulties of 
the task before us; then the enlightenments. 
"Facts," says one of the characters of Charles Dick- 
ens, "bein' stubborn and not easy drove," are at 
least, so far as they go, available. We are free to 
come to conclusions and to make critical comments. 
Our risk is that if we err — on whichever side does 
not matter — we reverse our position and become 
ourselves the objects of attack. 

Our main difficulties are two. First, that all 
from whom knowledge might have been obtained 
are dead and their lips are closed; second, that rec- 
ords are incomplete. This latter is the result of 
one of two causes — natural decay or purposed ob- 
literation. The tradition of the Bisley Boy has 
several addenda due to time and thought. One of 
these is that some of those concerned in the story 
disappeared from the scene. 

The story runs that on Elizabeth's accession or 
under circumstances antecedent to it all who were 
in the secret and still remained were "got rid of." 
The phrase is a convenient one and not unknown 
in history. Fortunately those who must have been 
in such a secret — if there was one — were but few. 
If such a thing occurred in reality, four persons 
were necessarily involved in addition to Elizabeth 
herself: (1) Mrs. Ashley, (2) Thomas Parry, (3) 
the parent of the living child who replaced the 



THE BISLEY BOY 299 

dead one; the fourth, being an unknown quantity, 
represents an idea rather than a person — a nu- 
cleated identity typical of family life with at- 
tendant difficulties of concealment. Of these four 
— three real persons and an idea — three are ac- 
counted for, so far as the "got rid of" theory is 
concerned. Elizabeth never told; Thomas Parry 
and Mrs. Ashley remained silent, in the full con- 
fidence of the (supposed) Princess who later was 
Queen. With regard to the last, the nucleated 
personality which includes the unknown parent pos- 
sibly but not of certainty, contemporary record is 
silent ; and we can only regard him or her as a mys- 
terious entity available for conjecture in such cases 
of difficulty as may present themselves. 

We must perforce, therefore, fall back on pure 
unadulterated probability, based on such rags of 
fact as can be produced at our inquest. Our com- 
fort — content being an impossibility — must lie in 
the generally-accepted aphorism; "Truth will pre- 
vail." In real life it is not always so; but it is a 
comforting belief and may remain faut de mieux. 

A grave cause of misleading is inexact transla- 
tion — whether the fault be in ignorance or inten- 
tional additions to or substractions from text 
referred to. A case in point is afforded by the 
letter already referred to from Leti's La Vie 
d'Elizdbeth. In the portion quoted Elizabeth 
mentioned her intention of not marrying: "I have 
not the slightest intention of being married, and 



300 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

. . . if ever I should think of it (which I do not 
believe is possible)." Now in Mr. Mumby's book 
the quotation is made from Leti's La Vie d'Eliza- 
beth which is the translation into French from the 
original Italian, the passage marked above in italics 
is simply: "ce que je ne crois pas." The addition 
of the words "is possible" gives what is under the 
circumstances quite a different meaning to the 
earliest record we have concerning the very point 
we are investigating. When I began this investi- 
gation, I looked on the passage — neither Mumby, 
remember, nor even Leti, but what professed to be 
the ipsissima verba of Elizabeth herself — and I was 
entirely misled until I had made comparison for 
myself — Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? The ad- 
dition of the two words, which seems at first glance 
merely to emphasise an expression of opinion, 
changes the meaning of the writer to a belief so 
strong that the recital of it gives it the weight 
of intention. Under ordinary circumstances this 
would not matter much ; but as w T e have to consider 
it in the light of a man defending his head against 
danger, and in a case where absolute circumspec- 
tion is a necessary condition of safety so that inten- 
tion becomes a paramount force, exactness of ex- 
pression is all-important. 

The only way to arrive at probability is to begin 
with fact. Such is a base for even credulity or its 
opposite, and if it is our wish or intention to be just 
there need be no straining on either one side or the 



THE BISLEY BOY 301 

other. In the ease of the Bisley Boy the points to 
be considered are: 

1. The time at which the change was or could be 
affected. 

2. The risk of discovery, (a) at first, (b) after- 
wards. 

It will be necessary to consider these separately 
for manifest reasons. The first belongs to the 
region of Danger ; the second to the region of Diffi- 
culty, with the headsman's axe glittering omi- 
nously in the background. 

F. THE TIME AND THE OPPORTUNITY 

(a) The time at which the change was or could 
have been effected. 

For several valid reasons I have come to the con- 
clusion that the crucial period by which the Bisley 
story must be tested is the year ending with July 
1544. No other time either earlier or later would, 
so far as we know, have fulfilled the necessary con- 
ditions. 

First of all the question of sex has to be consid- 
ered; and it is herein that, lacking suitable and full 
opportunity, discovery of such an imposture must 
have been at once detected — certainly had it com- 
menced at an early age. In babyhood the whole 
of the discipline of child-life begins. The ordinary 
cleanliness of life has to be taught, and to this end 
there is no portion of the infantile body which is 
not subject to at least occasional inspection. This 



302 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

disciplinary inspection lasts by force of habit until 
another stage on the journey towards puberty has 
been reached. Commercial use in America fixes 
stages of incipient womanhood — by dry goods' ad- 
vertisement — as "children's, misses' and girls' cloth- 
ing," and the illustration will sufficiently serve. 
It seems at first glance an almost unnecessary in- 
trusion into purely domestic life; but the present 
is just one of those cases where the experience of 
women is not only useful but necessary. In a ques- 
tion of identity of sex the nursemaid and the 
washerwoman play useful parts in the witness box. 
Regarding Elizabeth's childhood no question need 
ever or can ever arise. For at least the first ten 
years of her life, a woman's sex need not be known 
outside the nursery and the sick room; but then 
this is the very time when her attendants have direct 
and ample knowledge. Moreover in the case of 
the child of Queen Anne (Boleyn) there was every 
reason why the sex should have been unreservedly 
known. Henry VIII divorced Katherine of Ar- 
agon and married Anne in the hope of having 
legitimate male issue to sit on the throne of Eng- 
land. Later, when both Katherine and Anne had 
failed to satisfy him as to male issue, he divorced 
Anne and married Jane Seymour for the same pur- 
pose. In the interval either his views had enlarged 
or his patience had extended ; for, when Jane's life 
hung in the balance, owing to an operation which 
the surgeons considered necessary, and the husband 



THE BISLEY BOY 303 

was consulted as to which life they should, in case 
of needful choice, try to save, his reply was pecul- 
iar — though, taken in the light of historical per- 
spective, not at variance with his dominating idea. 
Gregorio Leti thus describes the incident (the quo- 
tation is made from the translation of the Italian 
into French and published in Amsterdam in 
1694) :— 

"Quand les medecins demanderent au Roi qui Ton sauverait 
de la mere ou de l'enfant, il repondit, qu'il auroit extreme- 
ment souhait de pouvoir sauver la mere et l'enfant, mais que 
eel n'etant possible, il vouloit que Ton sauvat l'enfant plutot 
que la mere parce qu'il trouveroit assez d' autres femmes." 

It had become a monomania with Henry that he 
should be father of a lawful son; and when the 
child of his second union was expected, he so took 
the consummation of his wishes for granted that 
those in attendance on his wife were actually afraid 
to tell him the truth. It would have been fortune 
and social honour to whosoever should bear him the 
glad tidings. We may be sure then that news so 
welcome would never have been perverted by those 
who had so much to gain. As it was, the "lady- 
mistress" — as she called herself — of the little Prin- 
cess, Mrs. (afterwards Lady) Bryan, wrote in 
her letter to Lord Cromwell in 1536 — Elizabeth 
being then in her third year : — 

"She is as toward a child and as gentle of conditions, as 
ever I knew any in my life." 



304 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

The writer could have had no ignorance as to the 
sex of the child, for in the same letter she gives 
Cromwell a list of her wants in the way of clothing ; 
which list is of the most intimate kind, including 
gown, kirtle, petticoat, "no manner of linen nor 
smocks," kerchiefs, rails, body stitchets, handker- 
chiefs, sleeves, mufflers, biggens. As in the same 
letter it is mentioned that the women attending the 
child were under the rule of Lady Bryan — an ac- 
complished nurse who had brought up Princess 
Mary and had been "governess to the children his 
Grace have had ever since" — it can be easily under- 
stood she was well acquainted with even the small- 
est detail of the royal nursery. Had the trouble 
of the lady-mistress been with regard to super- 
abundance of underclothing, one might have under- 
stood ignorance on the part of the responsible con- 
troller; but in the plentiful lack of almost every 
garment necessary for the child's wear by day or 
by night there could be no question as to her osten- 
sible sex at this age. 

Thence on, there were experienced and devoted 
persons round the little Princess, whose value in her 
father's eyes was largely enhanced since he had se- 
cured, for the time, her legitimacy by an Act of 
Parliament. 

After Elizabeth had been legitimised, she be- 
came one of the pieces in the gigantic game of 
chess on wliich Henry had embarked. Despite the 
fact that the son for whom he had craved was now 



THE BISLEY BOY 305 

a boy of six, it was only wise to consider and be 
prepared for whatever might happen in case 
Prince Edward should not live, and if, in such a 
case, Mary should die without issue. The case 
was one of amazing complexity, and as the time 
wore on the religious question became structurally 
involved. England had declared in no uncertain 
voice in favour of Protestantism, and the whole 
forces of Rome were arrayed against her. Mary 
was altogether in favour of the religion of her in- 
jured mother, and behind her stood the power of 
Catholicism which, even in that unscrupulous age, 
was well ahead in the race of unscrupulousness. 
And as Elizabeth stood next to the young Prince 
Edward in the forces of Reformation, on her was 
focussed much of the suspicion of polemic intrigue. 
The papacy was all powerful in matters of secret 
inquiry. Indeed in such an inquest its powers were 
unique, for unscrupulous spies were everywhere — 
even, it was alleged, in the confessional. How 
then could such a secret as the sex of a little girl 
of not a dozen years of age, who was constantly 
surrounded by women necessarily conversant with 
every detail of her life, be kept from all who wished 
to solve it. In such a state of affairs suspicion was 
equivalent to discovery. And discovery meant 
ruin to all concerned, death to abettors of the 
fraud, woe and destruction to England and a gen- 
eral upheaval of the fundamental ideas of Chris- 
tendom. It may, I presume, be taken for granted 



306 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

without flaw or mitigation of any kind that up to 
July, 1543, the "Princess Elizabeth" was what she 
appeared to be — a girl. 

At the time of her first letter to the new Queen, 
Catherine (Parr), she was just a trifle under ten 
years of age and a well-grown child, quick, clever, 
rather precocious, and well grounded in the learn- 
ing of her time. The exact date of this letter is 
not given by Leti — of which more anon — but it 
must have been somewhere between July 12 and 
31, 1543. Henry VIII married Catherine Parr 
on 12 July, and in her letter of 1543 Elizabeth calls 
Catherine "your Majesty." In her letter of 31 
July, 1544 she writes to the same correspondent: 

"... has deprived me for a whole year of your most 
illustrious presence." 

The whereabouts of Elizabeth during this last 
year appears to be the centre of the mystery ; and if 
any letter or proof is ever found of Elizabeth's be- 
ing anywhere but in her own house of Overcourt in 
Bisley Parish, it will go far to settle the vexed ques- 
tion now brought before the world for the first 
time. 

(b) The opportunity 

The year 1542 was a busy time for Henry 
VIII. He had on hand, either pending or 
going on, two momentous wars, one with Scot- 
land the other with France. The causes of either 



THE BISLEY BOY 307 

of these were too complicated for mention here; 
suffice it to say that they were chiefly dynastic and 
polemic. In addition he was busy with matri- 
monial matters, chiefly killing off his fifth wife 
Catherine Howard, and casting eyes on the new- 
made widow of Lord Latimer. In 1543 he mar- 
ried the lady, as his sixth wife. She herself can 
hardly be said to have lacked matrimonial experi- 
ence, as this was her third union. Her first ven- 
ture was with the elderly Lord Borough, who, like 
Lord Latimer, left her wealthy. Henry had by 
now got what might be called in the slang of the 
time "the marriage habit," and honeymoon dal- 
liance had hardly the same charm for him as it 
usually is supposed to have with those blessed with 
a lesser succession of spouses. The consequence 
was that he was able to give more attention to the 
necessary clearing up of the Scottish war, which 
finished at Solway Moss on December 14th, with 
the consequent death from chagrin of the Scottish 
King James V. The cause of the war, however, 
continued in the shape of a war with France which 
went on till 1546 when peace was declared to the 
pecuniary benefit of the English King. For the 
last two years of this time Henry carried on the 
war singlehanded, as the Emperor Charles V, who 
had begun it as his ally, withdrew. 

There is a paragraph in Grafton's Chronicle 
published in 1569 which throws a flood of light on 
Elizabeth's absence at this time, 1543: "This yeare 



308 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

was in London a great death of the pestilence, and 
therefore Mighelmas terme was adjourned to Saint 
Albones, and there it was kept to the ende." 

In his Girlhood of Queen Elizabeth, Mr. Mumby 
says: "For some obscure reason Elizabeth seems to 
have fallen out of her father's favour again very 
soon after Catherine Parr had obtained his consent 
to her return to Court" (1543). No such cause 
for the removal of the Princess from London was 
necessary. It was probably to the presence of the 
pestilence in London that her removal to a remote 
and healthy place was due. Failing Prince Ed- 
ward, then only five years of age and a weakly 
child, the crown must — unless some constitutional 
revolution be effected in the meantime or some 
future son be born to him — devolve on his fe- 
male heirs, a matter pregnant with strife of 
unknown dimensions. Mary was now twenty- 
seven years old and of a type that did not 
promise much for maternity. At the same time, 
Mary, though his eldest living daughter, was the 
hope of the Catholic party, to which he was in vio- 
lent opposition; whereas in Elizabeth lay the hope 
of the whole of the party of the Reformation. 
Her life was to her father far beyond the calls of 
parental affection or dynastic ambition, and she had 
to be saved at all costs from risk of health. 
Henry's own experience of child-life was a bitter 
one. Of his five children by Catherine of Aragon 
only one, Mary, survived childhood. Elizabeth 



THE BISLEY BOY 309 

was the only survivor of Anne Boleyn; Edward, 
of Jane Seymour. Anne of Cleves had no chil- 
dren, and if report spoke truly no chance of having 
any. Catherine Howard was executed childless. 
And he had only just married Catherine Parr, who 
had already had two husbands. 

On July 12, 1543, Henry married Catherine and 
in due course devoted himself to the war. On the 
14 July, 1544, he crossed from Dover to Calais to 
look after the conduct of affairs for himself, and 
on the 26th began the siege of Boulogne. This 
lasted for two months when having reduced the 
city he returned home. On the 8 September he 
wrote to his wife to that effect. During his ab- 
sence Queen Catherine was vicegerent and had 
manifestly as much public work on hand as she 
could cope with. Bisley was a long way from Lon- 
don, and there were no organised posts in the six- 
teenth century. Moreover, ever since his last mar- 
riage, Henry had been an invalid. He was now 
fifty-two years of age, of unhealthy body, and so 
heavy that he had to be lifted by machinery. 
Catherine was a devoted wife; and as Henry was 
both violent and irritable she had little time at com- 
mand to give to the affairs of other people. There 
was small opportunity for any one then who was 
sufficiently in the focus of affairs to be cognisant 
of such an imposture as the tradition points out. 
Doubtless hereafter, when a story so fascinating 
and at first glance so incredible begins to be ex- 



310 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

aniined and its details thoroughly threshed out, 
more items of evidence or surmise than are at pres- 
ent available will be found for the settlement of the 
question, one way or the other. In the meantime, 
be it remembered, that we are only examining off- 
hand a tradition made known for the first time after 
three centuries. Our present business is to con- 
sider possibilities. Later on the time may come — 
as it surely will; if the story can in the least be ac- 
cepted — for the consideration of probabilities. 
Both of these tentative examinations will lead to 
the final examination of possibility, of probability, 
and of proof pro or contra. 

At this stage we must admit that neither time 
nor opportunity present any difficulty in itself in- 
superable. 

G. THE IDENTITY OF ELIZABETH 

(a) Documents 

The next matter with which we have to deal 
is regarding the identity of Elizabeth. This 
needs (if necessary) a consideration of the facts 
of her life, and so far as we can realise 
them, from external appearance, mental and moral 
attitudes, and intentions. On account of space we 
must confine this branch of the subject to the small- 
est portion of time necessary to form any sort of 
just conclusion and accepting the available records 
up to 1543, take the next period from that time to 



THE BISLEY BOY 311 

anywhere within the first few years of her reign — 
by which time her character was finally fixed and 
the policy on which her place in history is to be 
judged had been formulated and tested. 

This implies in the first instance a brief (very 
brief) study of her physique with a corollary in the 
shape of a few remarks on her heredity : 

Grafton's Chronicle states, under the date of 7 
September 1533, "the Queene was delivered 
of a fayre Lady" which was his Courtly way of an- 
nouncing the birth of a female princess, blond in 
colour. In all chronicles "fayre" means of light 
colour. In Wintown the reputed father of Mac- 
beth — the Devil — is spoken of as a "fayre" man; 
evil qualities were in that age attributed to blondes. 
In a letter dated from Greenwich Palace, 18 
April, 1534, Sir William Kingston said to Lord 
Lisle: "To-day, the King and Queen were at 
Eltham" (where the royal nursery then was) "and 
saw my Lady Princess — as goodly a child as hath 
been seen. Her Grace is much in the King's 
favour as a goodly child should be — God save her!" 
In 1536, when Elizabeth was but three years old, 
Lady Bryan, the "Lady-mistress" of both Mary 
and her half-sister, wrote from Hunsdon to Lord 
Cromwell regarding the baby princess. "For she 
is as toward a child and as gentle of conditions, as 
ever I knew any in my life. Jesus preserve her 
Grace!" In the same letter she says "Mr. Shelton 
would have my Lady Elizabeth to dine and sup 



312 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

every day at the board of estate. Alas! my Lord 
it is not meet for a child of her age to keep such 
rule yet. I promise you, my lord, I dare not take 
it upon me to keep her Grace in health an' she 
keep that rule. For there she shall see divers 
meats, and fruits, and wines, which it would be 
hard for me to restrain her Grace from. Ye 
know, my lord, there is no place of correction there ; 
and she is yet too young to correct greatly." 

Testimony is borne according to Leti to the good 
qualities of the Princess Elizabeth in these early 
years, by the affectionate regard in which she was 
held by two of Henry's queens, the wronged and 
unhappy Anne of Cleves and the happy-natured 
Catherine Parr. Anne, he says, though she had 
only seen her twice loved her much ; she thought her 
beautiful and full of spirit ("pleine d'esprit.") 
Catherine, according to the same writer who had 
seen her often before her marriage to Henry, ad- 
mired her "esprit et ses manieres." 

If Leti could only have spoken at first hand, his 
record of her would be very valuable. But unhap- 
pily he was only born nearly thirty years after her 
death. His history was manifestly written from 
records and as Elizabeth's fame was already made 
before he began to treat of her his work is largely 
a panegyric of hearsay. There is, regarding the 
youth of the Princess, such an overdone flood of 
adulation that it is out of place in a serious history 
of a human life. In his account of the time which 



THE BISLEY BOY 313 

we are considering, we find the child compared in 
both matters of body and mind to an angel. She 
is credited at the age of ten with an amount of 
knowledge in all branches of learning sufficient to 
equip the illustrious men of a century. The fact 
is the Italian has accepted the queen's great posi- 
tion, and then reconstructed her youth to accord 
with it, in such a way as to show that whatever re- 
markable abilities she possessed were the direct out- 
come of her own natural qualities. 1 

The details above given are not merely meagre 
but are only explicable by the fact that during the 
earlier years of her life the child was not consid- 
ered of any importance. The circumstances of 
Anne's marriage — which in any case was delayed 
till it became a necessary preliminary to the legiti- 
macy on which any future claim to the throne must 
rest — did not make for a belief in the public mind 
for its permanency. Things were fluctuating in 
the religious world and few were inclined to the be- 
lief that the Pope (with whom lay the last word 
and whose political leanings in favour of Catherine 
of Aragon and the validity of her marriage to 
Henry were well known) would be overthrown by 
the English King. And in any case, were Henry 

i Amongst other branches of knowledge he credits her with know- 
ing well " Geography, Cosmography, Mathematics, Architecture, 
Painting, Arithmetic, History, Mechanics." She had a special fa- 
cility in learning languages; spoke and wrote French, Italian, Span- 
ish, Flemish. She loved poetry and wrote it, but regarded it as a 
useless amusement and, as it was distasteful to her, turned to his- 
tory and politics. Finally he adds: "She was naturally ambitious 
and always knew how to hide her defects." 



314 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

to be the final judge of appeal in his own case no 
great continuity of purpose could be expected 
from him. The first important event which we 
have to consider with reference to the question be- 
fore us is Elizabeth's first letter to Queen Cath- 
erine (Parr) in 1543. In this the girl then ten 
years old writes to her new step-mother, at whose 
marriage she together with her half-sister Mary 
had been present. It is in form a dutiful letter, 
not entirely without an apparent compulsion or at 
least intelligent supervision. As it stands, it is im- 
possible to believe that it emanated from a child of 
ten quite free to follow out its inclinations. The 
dutifulness is altogether, or largely, due to the 
training and self -suppression of the royal child of 
an arbitrary father with absolute power. But it 
remains for each reader to consider it impartially. 
The points which we should do well to note here 
are its plain form of expression, and its entire ab- 
sence of personal affection. The latter is all the 
more marked in that it was a letter of thanks for a 
kindness conferred. Elizabeth was very anxious 
to come to her father, and Catherine had furthered 
her wish and secured its fulfilment. After the 
marriage, the child, as is shown (or rather in- 
ferred), had been sent away for more than a year, 
which absence had been prolonged for at least six 
months — as already shown. 

There is little evidence of Elizabeth's inner na- 
ture in these early days ; but we have every right to 



THE BISLEY BOY 315 

think that she was of a peaceable, kindly and affec- 
tionate nature. Lady Bryan her first nurse or 
governess (after Lady Boleyn, Anne's mother) 
thought highly of her. Catherine Ashley, who 
had charge of her next, loved her and was her de- 
voted servant, friend and confidant till her death. 

Thomas Parry her life-long friend was devoted 
to her, and when the circumstances of their respec- 
tive lives and the happenings of the time kept them 
apart, she restored him at the first opportunity and 
made his fortune her special care. 

There is little base here on which to build an in- 
verted pyramid ; our only safety is in taking things 
as they seem to be and using common sense. 

(b) Changes 

Let us now take the years beginning with 1544. 
From this time on, more is known of the person- 
ality of Elizabeth; in fact there is little unknown, 
that is, of matters of fact, and to this only we 
must devote ourselves. Whatever may have been 
Elizabeth's motives we can only infer them. She 
was a secretive person and took few into her con- 
fidence, unless it was of vital necessity — and then 
only in matters required by the circumstance. The 
earliest knowledge we have of this second period of 
her history is in her letter to Queen Catherine 
(Parr) written from St. James' Palace on 31 July, 
1544. 

In the year which had elapsed since her last re- 



316 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

corded letter Elizabeth's literary style had entirely 
changed. The meagre grudging style has become 
elegant and even florid with the ornate grace and 
imagery afforded by the study of the Latin and 
French tongues. Altogether there is not merely 
a more accomplished diction but there is behind it 
a truer feeling and larger sympathy. It is more 
in accord with the letter accompanying the gift to 
the Queen, of her translation of the Mirror of the 
Sinful Soul which she had dedicated to her. 

Historians have given various rescripts of cer- 
tain earlier letters of the Princess Elizabeth, but 
none of them seem in harmony of thought with 
this, whereas it is quite in accord with her later 
writings. Metabolism is an accepted doctrine of 
physiology ; but its scope is not — as yet at all events 
— extended to the intellect, and we must take 
things as we find them within the limits of human 
knowledge. 

It will perhaps be as well to reserve the consid- 
eration of any other point, except the change in 
actual identity, till the complete analogy of all nat- 
ural processes is an established fact. 

(c) Her personality 

We have no letters of Princess Elizabeth before 
1543 which are not open to grave doubt as to date, 
but there is one letter to which allusion must al- 
most of necessity be made. It is a letter from 
Roger Ascham, tutor to the Princess Elizabeth, to 



THE BISLEY BOY 317 

Mrs. Ashley. No date is given by Mr. Mumby, 
but he states in his text that it was written "dur- 
ing Grindal's term of office" as tutor to the Prin- 
cess. Mumby quotes from the Elizabeth of Miss 
Strickland, who in turn quotes from Whittaker's 
Richmondshire. Now Grindal's term of office 
lasted from 1546 (probably the end of that year) 
till it was cut short by his death from the Plague 
in 1548, so that he could not have known his royal 
pupil before 1544. The text of the letter leads a 
careful reader to infer that it was written after that 
date. The important part of the letter is as fol- 
lows : 

"... the thanks you have deserved from that noble 
imp by your labour and wisdom now flourishing in all goodly 
godliness. ... I wish her Grace (Elizabeth) to come to 
that end in perfectness and likelihood of her wit and pain- 
lessness in her study, true trade of her teaching, which your 
diligent overseeing doth most constantly promise. ... I 
wish all increase of virtue and honour to that my good lady, 
whose wit, good Mrs. Ashley, I beeseech you somewhat favour. 
Blunt edges be dull and dure much pain to little profit; the 
free edge is soon turned if it be not handled thereafter. If 
you pour much drink at once into a goblet, the most part will 
dash out and run over; if ye pour it softly you may fill it 
even to the top, and so her Grace, I doubt not, by little and 
little may be increased in learning, that at length greater 
cannot be required." 

If this letter means anything at all — which in 
the case of such a man as Roger Ascham is not to 
be doubted — it means that Mrs. Ashley, then her 



318 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

governess, was cautioned not to press the little girl 
overmuch in her lessons. It is an acknowledgment 
of the teacher's zeal as well as affection, and in the 
flowery and involved style of the period and the 
man, illustrates the theory by pointing out the 
error of trying to fill a small vessel from a larger 
one by pouring too fast. She is not a backward 
child, he says in effect, but go slowly with her edu- 
cation, you cannot give full learning all at once. 

Compare this letter with that of the same writer 
to John Sturmius, Rector of the Protestant Uni- 
versity of Strasbourg, on the same subject in 1550: 

"The Lady Elizabeth has accomplished her sixteenth year; 
and so much of solidity of understanding, such courtesy united 
with dignity, have never been observed at so early an age. 
She has the most ardent love of true religion and of the best 
kind of literature. The constitution of her mind is exempt 
from female weakness, and she is endued with a masculine 
power of application. 

"No apprehension can be quicker than hers, no memory 
more retentive. French and Italian she speaks like English; 
Latin with fluency, propriety and judgment; she also spoke 
Greek with me, frequently, willingly, and understanding well. 
Nothing can be more elegant than her handwriting, whether 
in the Greek or Roman character. In music she is very skil- 
ful but does not greatly delight. With respect to personal 
decoration, she greatly prefers a simple elegance to show and 
splendour, so despising the outward adorning of plaiting the 
hair and of wearing of gold, that in the whole manner of her 
life she rather resembles Hippolyta than Phaedra." 

That such a scholar as Roger Ascham makes the 
simile is marked. Hippolyta was a Queen of the 



THE BISLEY BOY 319 

Amazons and Phaedra was an almost preternatu- 
rally womanly woman, one with a tragic intensity 
of passion. 

The Elizabeth whom we know from 1544 to 
1603 certainly had brains enough to protect her 
neck. In 1549 Sir Robert Tyrwhitt wrote to the 
Protector Somerset, apropos of the strenuous ef- 
fort being made to gain from her some admission 
damaging to herself concerning Thomas Sey- 
mour's attempts to win her hand : 

"She hath a very pretty wit and nothing is got- 
ten out of her but by great policy." 

In a letter from Simon Renard Ambassador to 
the Emperor Charles V dated London September 
23, 1553, there is incidentally a statement regard- 
ing Elizabeth's character which it is wise to hold in 
mind when discussing this particular period of her 
history. Writing of Elizabeth's first attendance 
at Mass he said: "she, Mary, . . . entreated 
Madame Elizabeth to speak freely of all that was 
on her conscience, to which the Princess replied 
that she was resolved to declare publicly that in go- 
ing to Mass as in all else that she had done, she 
had only obeyed the voice of her conscience; and 
that she had acted freely, without fear, deceit, or 
pretence. We have since been told, however, that 
the said Lady Elizabeth is very timid, and that 
while she was speaking with the Queen she trem- 
bled very much." 

Compare with this the letter of 16th March, 1554 



320 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

to the Queen (Mary) written just as she was told 
to go to the Tower. In this letter which is beauti- 
fully written and with not a trace of agitation she 
protests her innocence of any plot. Her mental 
attitude was thoroughly borne out by a calm dig- 
nity of demeanour which is more in accord with 
male than female nature. In very fact Elizabeth 
appears all her life since 1544 to have been playing 
with great thoughtfulness and yet dexterity a 
diplomatic game — acting with histrionic subtlety 
a part which she had chosen advisedly. 

A good idea of the personality of Elizabeth dur- 
ing the period beginning with 1544 may be had 
from a brief consideration of the risks which a per- 
son taking up such an imposture would run, first 
at the time of beginning the venture and then of 
sustaining the undertaken role. At the outset a 
boy of ten or eleven would not think of taking it 
seriously. At first he would look on it as a "lark" 
and carry out the idea with a serious energy only 
known in play-time. Later thought would give it 
a new charm in the shape of danger. This, while 
adding to his great zest, would sober him; thence 
on it would be a game — just such a game as a boy 
loves, perpetual struggle to get the best of some- 
one else. To some natures wit against wit is a 
better strife than strength against strength, and if 
one were well equipped for such a fray the game 
would satisfy the ambition of his years. In any 
case when once such a game was entered on, the 



THE BISLEY BOY 321 

stake would be his own head — a consideration which 
must undoubtedly make for strenuous effort — even 
in boyhood. 

The task which would have followed — which did 
follow if the Bisley story is true — would have been 
vastly greater. If the imposture escaped immedi- 
ate detection — which is easily conceivable — a new 
kind of endeavour would have been necessary; one 
demanding the utmost care and perpetual vigilance 
in addition to the personal qualities necessary for 
the carrying out of the scheme. Little help could 
be given to the young boy on whom rested the 
weight of what must have appeared to all con- 
cerned in it a stupendous undertaking. From the 
nature of the task, which was one which even the 
faintest breath of suspicion would have ruined, the 
little band, originally involved, could gain no as- 
sistance. Safety was only possible by the main- 
tenance of the most rigid secrecy. All around 
them were enemies served by a host of zealous spies. 
If then the story be true, those who carried such an 
enterprising situation to lasting success, must have 
been no common persons. Let us suppose for a 
moment that the story was true. In such case the 
Boy of Bisley who acted the part of the Princess 
Elizabeth could have had only two assistants — as- 
sistants even if they were only passive. Whatever 
may have happened we know from history that 
both Mrs. Ashley and Thomas Parry were in- 
grainedly loyal to Elizabeth, as she was to them. 



322 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

For convenience we shall speak of the substitute 
of the Princess as though he were the Princess her- 
self whom he appeared to be, and for whom he was 
accepted thenceforth. That the imposture — if 
there was one — succeeded is a self-evident fact; for 
almost sixty years there was no question raised by 
any person of either sex and of any political opin- 
ion. The statecraft of England, France, the 
Papacy, and the German Empire were either un- 
suspicious or in error — or both. It is reasonable to 
imagine that a person of strong character and 
active intelligence might have steered deftly be- 
tween these variously opposing forces. It is con- 
ceivable that in the case of a few individuals there 
might have been stray fragmentary clouds of sus- 
picion; though if there were any they must have 
come to those who were held to a consequent in- 
activity by other dominating causes. We shall 
have occasion presently to touch on this subject but 
in the meantime we must accept it that there was 
no opinion expressed by any one in such a way as 
necessarily to provoke action. Of course after a 
time even suspicion became an impossibility. Here 
was a young girl growing into womanhood whom 
all around her had known all her life — or what was 
equivalent — believed they had. It is only now 
after three centuries that we can consider who it 
wps that formed the tally of those who knew the 
personality of Elizabeth during both periods of her 
youth, that up to 1543-4 and that which followed. 



THE BISLEY BOY 323 

Henry VIII manifestly not only had no doubt on 
the subject but no thought. If he had had he was 
just the man to have settled it at once. Anne 
Boleyn was dead, so was her predecessor in title. 
Anne of Cleves had accepted the annulment of her 
marriage — and a pension. Jane Seymour and 
Catherine Howard were both dead. Nearly all 
those who as nurses, governesses, or teachers, Lady 
Bryan, Richard Croke, William Grindal, Roger 
Ascham, who knew the first period were dead or 
had retired into other spheres. Those who re- 
mained knowing well the individuality of the Prin- 
cess and representing both periods were Mrs. 
Ashley, Thomas Parry and the Queen (later dow- 
ager) Catherine Parr. 

We know already of the faithfulness of the two 
former, the man who was a clever as well as a faith- 
ful servant, and the woman, who having no chil- 
dren of her own, took to her heart the little child 
entrusted to her care and treated her with such 
affectionate staunchness — a staunchness which has 
caused more than one historian to suspect that there 
was some grave secret between them which linked 
their fortunes together. 

As to Catherine Parr we are able to judge from 
her letters that she was fond of her step-daughter 
and was consistently kind to her. Those who 
choose to study the matter further can form an 
opinion of their own from certain recorded episodes 
which, given without any elucidating possibilities 



324 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

leave the historians in further doubt. Leti puts in 
his Life, under the date of 1543, "before her mar- 
riage to Henry, Catherine Parr had seen often 
Elizabeth and admired her." The Italian historian 
may have had some authority for the statement; 
but also it may have been taken from some state- 
ment made by Elizabeth in later years or by some 
person in her interest, to create a misleading belief. 
In any case let us accept the statement as a matter 
of fact. If so it may throw a light on another 
branch of this eternal and diverse mystery. 
Martin Hume and F. A. Mumby approaching the 
subject from different points confess themselves 
puzzled by Elizabeth's attitude to men. The for- 
mer writes in his Courtships of Queen Elizabeth: 

"No one can look at the best portraits of Elizabeth without 
recognising at a glance that she was not a sensual woman. 
The lean, austere face, the tight thin lips, the pointed delicate 
chin, the cold dull eyes, tell of a character the very opposite 
of lascivious." 

Mr. Mumby writing about Mrs. Ashley's "Con- 
fession" and of the horse-play between Elizabeth 
and Lord Seymour (whom Queen Catherine had 
married immediately after the King's death) makes 
this remark: 

"The most surprising thing about this behaviour is that the 
Queen should have encouraged it." 

There is plenty of room for wonder, considering 
that Admiral Seymour had earlier wanted to marry 



THE BISLEY BOY 325 

Elizabeth. But Catherine was a clever woman, 
who had already had three husbands — Seymour 
was her fourth — and children. If any one would 
see through a boy's disguise as a girl she was the 
one. It is hard to imagine that Seymour's wife 
had not good cause for some form revenge on 
him of whom Hallam speaks of as a "dangerous 
and unprincipled man" and of whom Latimer said 
"he was a man farthest from the fear of God that 
ever I knew or heard of in England" as it was be- 
lieved at the time of her death that he had poisoned 
his wife, the Queen dowager, to make way for a 
marriage with Elizabeth, with whom according to 
common belief he was still in love, it would be only 
natural that a woman of her disposition and with 
her sense of humour, shoulcl revenge herself in a 
truly wifely way by using for the purpose, with- 
out betraying the secret, her private knowledge 
or belief of the quasi-princess's real sex. Such 
would afford an infinite gratification to an ill-used 
wife jealous of so vain a husband. 

We now come to the crux of the whole story — 
the touchstone of this strange eventful history. 
Could there have been such a boy as is told of; 
one answering to the many conditions above shown 
to be vitally necessary for the carrying out of such 
a scheme of imposture. The answer to this ques- 
tion is distinctly in the affirmative; there could have 
been such a boy ; had the Duke of Richmond been 
born fourteen or fifteen years earlier than he was, 



326 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

the difficulties of appearance, intellect, education, 
and other qualifications need not have presented 
themselves. 

If the question to be asked is: "Was there such 
a boy?" the answer cannot be so readily given. In 
the meantime there are some considerations from 
the study of which — or through which — an answer 
may, later, be derived. 

H. THE SOLUTION 

The Duke of Richmond 

The points which must be settled before we can 
solve the mystery of the Bisley Boy are: 

(1) Was there such an episode regarding the 
early life of the Princess Elizabeth? 

(2) Was there such a boy as was spoken of? 

(3) How could such an imposture have been 
carried out, implying as it did — 

(a) A likeness to the Princess so extraordinary 
as not to have created suspicion in the mind of 
anyone not already in the plot. 

(b) An acquaintance with the circumstances of 
the life of the Princess sufficiently accurate to ward 
off incipient suspicion caused by any overlooking 
or neglect of necessary conditions. 

(c) An amount of education and knowledge 
equal to that held by a child of ten to twelve years 
of age who had been taught by some of the most 
learned persons of the time. 




THE DUKE OF RICHMOND 



THE BISLEY BOY 327 

(d) A skill in classics and foreign tongues only 
known amongst high scholars and diplomatists. 

(e) An ease of body and a courtliness of man- 
ner and bearing utterly foreign to any not bred in 
the higher circles of social life. 

If there could be found a boy answering such 
conditions — one whose assistance could be had with 
facility and safety — then the solution is possible, 
even if not susceptible of the fullest proof. Fol- 
lowing the lines of argument hitherto used in this 
book, let us first consider reasons why such an 
argument is tenable. I may then perhaps be 
allowed to launch the theory which has come to me 
during this investigation. 

(a) His Birth and Appearance 

A part — and no small part — of the bitterness of 
Henry VIII in not having a son to succeed him 
was that, though he had a son, such could not by 
the existing law succeed him on the throne. 

Nearly ten years after his marriage to Cath- 
erine of Aragon and after a son and other 
children had been born to them, all of whom had 
died shortly after birth, Henry had in the manner 
of mediaeval kings — and others — entered on a love 
affair, the object of his illicit affection being one 
of the ladies-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Eliza- 
beth, daughter of John Blount of Knevet, Shrop- 
shire. 

The story of this love affair is thus given in 



328 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

quaint old English in Grafton's Chronicle first 
published in 1569 which covers the period from 
1189 to 1558: 

"You shall understande, the King in his freshe youth was 
in the cheynes of love with a faire damosell called Elizabeth 
Blunt, daughter of Syr John Blunt Knight, which damosell 
in synging, daunsing, and in all goodly pastimes, excelled 
all other, by the which goodly pastimes, she wanne the king's 
hart: and she againe shewed him such favour that by him she 
bare a goodly man childe, of beautie like to the father and 
mother. This child was well brought up lyke a Princes 
childe." 

(b) His Upbringing and Marriage 

This son of an unlawful union — born in 1519 
it is said — was called Henry Fitzroy after the cus- 
tom applicable in such cases to the natural children 
of kings. Naturally enough his royal father took 
the greatest interest in this child and did, whilst 
the latter lived, all in his power to further his in- 
terests. A mere list of the honours conferred on 
him during his short life will afford some clue 
to the King's intention of his further advancement, 
should occasion serve. The shower of favours be- 
gan in 1525 when the child, as is said, was only 
six years of age. On the 18th of June of this year 
he was created Earl of Nottingham and Duke of 
Richmond and Somerset, with precedence over all 
dukes except those of the King's lawful issue. He 
was also made a Knight of the Garter — of which 
exalted Order he was raised to the Lieutenancy 



THE BISLEY BOY 329 

eight years later. He was also nominated to other 
high offices: the King's Lieutenant General for 
districts north of the Trent ; and Keeper of the city 
and fortress of Carlisle. To these posts were 
added those of Lord High Admiral of England, 
Wales, Ireland, Normandy, Gascony and Aqui- 
taine; Warden General of the Marches of Scot- 
land, and Receiver of Middleham and of Sheriff 
Hutton, Yorkshire. He was also given an income 
of four thousand pounds sterling per annum. In 
1529, being then only ten years of age, he was also 
made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Constable of 
Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports — 
three of the most important offices of the Nation. 
A few months before his death in 1536 there was a 
general understanding that Henry VIII intended 
to make him King of Ireland and possibly to nom- 
inate him as his successor on the throne of Eng- 
land. That some such intention was in Henry's 
mind was shown by the Succession Act passed just 
before the close of the Parliament which was dis- 
solved in 1536. In this Act it is fixed that the 
Crown is to devolve on the King's death to the son 
of Jane Seymour and in default of issue by him, 
on Mary and Elizabeth in succession in case of lack 
of issue by the former. In the event of their both 
dying before the King and without issue he is to 
appoint by will his successor on the throne. 

The various important posts conferred on the 
young Duke of Richmond were evidently prepa- 



330 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

rations for the highest post of all, which in default 
of legitimate issue of his own legitimate children 
he intended to confer on him. 

The education which was given to the little Duke 
is of especial interest and ought in the present con- 
nection to be carefully studied. It was under the 
care of Richard Croke, celebrated for his scholar- 
ship; who in the modern branch was assisted by 
John Palsgrave the author of the earliest English 
grammar of the French language " Lesclarcisse- 
ment de la langue Francoyse." In spite of the 
opposition of his household the Duke of Richmond 
devoted his young life to study rather than to arms. 
Whilst still a young boy he had already read a 
part of Ccesar, Virgil and Terence, knew a little 
Greek, and was fairly skilful in music — singing 
and playing on the virginals. There was much 
talk in Court circles as to whom he should marry 
and many ladies of high degree were named. One 
was a niece of Pope Clement VII; another was a 
Danish princess ; still another a princess of France ; 
also a daughter of Eleanor, dowager Queen of 
Portugal, a sister of Charles V. This lady was 
afterwards Queen of France. 

Early in 1532 the Duke resided for a while at 
Hatfield. Then he went to Paris with his friend 
the Earl of Surrey, son of the Duke of Norfolk. 
There he remained till September, 1533. On his 
return to England he married by special dispensa- 
tion, on 25 November, 1533, Mary Howard, daugh- 



THE BISLEY BOY 331 

ter of the Duke of Norfolk by his second marriage 
and sister of Surrey. Incidentally he is said to 
have been present at the beheading of Queen Anne 
(Boleyn) , May 19, 1536. He did not long survive 
the last-named exhibition, for some two months 
later — 22 July, 1536, he died. There was at the 
time a suspicion that he had been poisoned by Eord 
Rochford, brother of Queen Anne (Boleyn). 

Henry Duke of Richmond and Somerset had no 
legal issue. As a matter of fact though he was 
married in 1533, nearly three years before his death, 
he never lived with his wife. It was said that 
he was not only young for matrimony, being only 
seventeen; but was in very bad health. It was in- 
tended that after his marriage he should go to Ire- 
land; but on account of the state of his health that 
journey was postponed — as it turned out, for ever. 

A light on this ill-starred marriage is thrown in 
the quaint words of another chronicler of the time, 
Charles Wriothesley, who wrote of the time be- 
tween 1485 and 1559. 

"But the said younge duke had never layne by his wife, 
and so she is maide, wife, and now a widowe; I praie God 
send her now good fortune." 

In this summarised history certain points are to be 
noticed : 

(1) The Duke of Richmond was like his father 
(Henry VIII) and his mother who was "fayre." 

(2) A Dispensation was obtained for his mar- 



332 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

riage to Lady Mary Howard which took place in 
1533 but with whom he never cohabited. 

There is a side-light here of the hereditary aspect 
of the case. Both the Duke and Duchess of Rich- 
mond were "fayre," and in the language of the old 
chroniclers "fayre" means blonde. Wintown for 
instance speaking of Macbeth's supposed descent 
from the Devil says: 

"Gottyne he was on ferly wys 

"Hys Modyr to woddis mad oft repayre 

"For the delyte of halesum ayre. 

"Swa, scho past a-pon a day 

"Tyl a Wod, hyr for to play: 

"Scho met at eas with a fayr man." 

And Grafton thus speaks under date 7 Septem- 
ber 1533 of Elizabeth's birth: "The Queen was de- 
livered of a fayre Lady." 

Now Anne Boleyn is described as small and 
lively, a brunette with black hair and beautiful 
eyes, and yet her daughter is given as red-haired 
by all the painters. 

It is somewhat difficult to make out the true col- 
ours of persons. For instance Giovanni Michiel 
writing to the Venetian Senate in 1557 puts in his 
description of Elizabeth "She is tall and well 
formed, with a good skin, although swarthy" but 
in the same page he says "she prides herself on her 
father and glories in him ; everybody is saying that 
she also resembles him more than the Queen 
[Mary] does." As to the introduction of the 



THE BISLEY BOY 333 

word "swarthy" as above; it may have been one of 
the tricks of Elizabeth to keep the Venetian am- 
bassador from knowing too much or getting any 
ground for guessing. If so it looks rather like 
Elizabeth concealing her real identity — which 
would be an argument in favour of an imposture; 
if she was the real princess there would be no need 
for concealment. 

It is only common sense to expect, if the 
paternal element was so strong in Henry as to 
reproduce in offspring his own colour, that had 
the Duke of Richmond had any issue especially 
by a fair wife it too would have inherited some- 
thing of the family colour. Holbein's picture of 
the "Lady of Richmond," as the Duke's wife was 
called, shows her as a fair woman. 

These are two points to be here borne in mind; 
that Henry VIII was probably bald, for in none 
of his pictures is any hair visible. It would hardly 
be polite to infer that Elizabeth wore a wig for 
the same reason. But it is recorded that she always 
travelled with a stock of them — no less than eighty 
of various colours. 

But there are other indications of such conceal- 
ment. Why for instance did she object to see doc- 
tors? So long as she was free and could control 
them she did not mind; but whilst she was under 
duress they were a source of danger. Perhaps it 
is this which accounts for her taking the Sacra- 
ment on 26 August, 1554 when she was practically 



334 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

a prisoner at Woodstock in the keeping of Sir 
Henry Bedingfield. About the third week in June 
the Princess asked Sir Henry to be allowed to have 
a doctor sent to her. He in turn applied to the 
Council who made answer on the 25th that the 
Queen's Oxford physician was ill and Mr. Wendy 
was absent and the remaining one, Mr. Owen, could 
not be spared. The latter however recommended 
two Oxford doctors, Barnes and Walbec, in case 
she should care to see either of them. On July 4th 
Sir Henry reported to the Council that Elizabeth 
in politely declining said: "I am not minded to 
make any stranger privy to the state of my body, 
but commit it to God." Then, when through her 
submission to the Queen's religious convictions she 
had obtained her liberty, she took no more concern 
in the matter. 

The Duchess of Richmond 

Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, married 
twice. His second wife was the lady Elizabeth 
Stafford, eldest daughter of the Duke of Bucking- 
ham, and he had issue by both marriages. In 1533 
the only surviving daughter of the second marriage 
was Mary, who was thus the Lady Mary Howard, 
sister of the Earl of Surrey. It was this lady with 
whom the uncompleted marriage of the Duke of 
Richmond took place. Doubtless they were early 
friends. In her youth she used to spend the sum- 
mer at Tendring Hall, Suffolk, and the winter 




THE DUCHESS OF RICHMOND 



THE BISLEY BOY 335 

at Hunsdon, Hertfordshire, where was one of 
Henry's palaces ; in addition Henry was one of the 
closest companions of her brother, the Earl of Sur- 
rey. Lady Richmond's part in the historical epi- 
sode before us is hardly direct. It only comes in 
through two circumstances not unattended with 
mystery. It is not necessary that the two were 
correlated; but no student can get away from the 
idea that there was some connection between them, 
especially when there is another inference bearing 
on the subject with reference to the second mar- 
riage of the Duchess. This took place after an 
interval of some years to Gilbert, son of Sir George 
Talboys of Goloths, Lincolnshire. The name of 
the second husband is variously spelled in the 
chronicles as Tailboise or Talebuse. She died in 
the year before Elizabeth came to the throne. The 
two things to examine closely with regard to this 
marriage to the Duke of Richmond were the Dis- 
pensation for the marriage (together with the date 
of it), and its non-fulfilment. The Dispensation 
was dated 28 November, 1533, but the marriage 
took place three days earlier. Whether this dis- 
crepancy had anything to do with her later mar- 
riage to Talboys we can only guess — unless of 
course more exhaustive search can produce some 
document, unknown as yet, which may throw light 
on the subject. It is a matter of no light mystery 
why a Dispensation was obtained at such a time 
and by whom it was effected. At this time Henry 



336 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

VIII was engaged in the bitterest struggle of his 
life, that regarding the supremacy of the Pope, so 
that it was a direct violation of his policy to have 
asked for, or even to recognise such a Dispensation 
in the case of his own son whom he intended to 
succeed him as King. Before a year had passed 
he had actually thrown over the Papal authority 
altogether, and had taken into his own hands the 
headship of the National Church. What then was 
behind such a maladroit action? If it had been 
done as a piece of statecraft — the ostensible show- 
ing that there was as yet no direct rupture between 
the British Nation and the Papacy — it would have 
lost its efficacy if it might be cited as a Court 
favour rather than a national right. Moreover, as 
it was to sanction by then existing canonical law 
a marriage of Henry's son with a daughter of the 
head of the most powerful Catholic House in Eng- 
land, it could not be expected that Borne would 
not use this in its strife for the continuation of its 
supremacy. If Henry was directly concerned in 
the matter, it was bad policy and unlike him to con- 
ciliate Catholicism by a yielding on the part of one 
who would be in the future the Head of the Re- 
formed Church. Altogether it leaves one under 
the impression that there must have been a more 
personal cause than any yet spoken of. Some- 
thing to be covered up, or from which suspicion 
should be averted. There was already quite enough 
material for a controversy in case Henry Fitzroy 



THE BISLEY BOY 337 

should come to the throne and it might be well to 
minimise any further risk. But in such case what 
was there to be covered up or from which suspicion 
should be averted? Already Richmond held under 
his father all the threads of government in his own 
hand. If he ever should need to tighten them it 
would be done by himself as ruler. There must 
still be some reason which must be kept secret and 
of which Henry himself did not and must not 
know. Beyond this again was the question of the 
personal ambition of "Bluff King Hal." It was 
not sufficient for him that a barren heir should 
succeed him — even if that heir was his own son. 
He wanted to found a dynasty, and if he suspected 
for an instant that after all his plotting and striv- 
ing — all his titanic efforts to overcome such ob- 
stacles as nations and religions — his hopes might 
fail through lack of issue on his son's part he would 
cease to waste his time and efforts on his behalf. 
It is almost impossible to imagine that the Duke of 
Richmond had not had some love affairs — if in- 
deed he was only seventeen (of which there is a 
doubt) — it must be borne in mind that both the 
Lancastrians and the Yorkists who united in the 
Tudor stock matured early. On both his father's 
and mother's side Henry Fitzroy was of a pleas- 
ure-loving, voluptuous nature, and as the masculine 
element predominated in his make-up there is not 
any great stretch of imagination required to be 
satisfied that there was some young likeness of him 



338 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

toddling or running about. But in a case like his 
masculine mis-doing does not count ; it is only where 
a woman's credit is at stake that secrecy is a vital 
necessity. We must therefore look to the female 
side to find a cause for any mystery which there 
may be. So far as a boy of the right age is con- 
cerned with a decided likeness to Henry VIII it 
would not have required much searching about to 
lay hands on a suitable one. 

But here a new trouble would begin. It would 
be beyond nature to expect that any mother would 
consent, especially at a moment's notice, to her child 
running such a risk as the substitute of the dead 
Princess Elizabeth was taking, without some kind 
of assurance or guarantee of his safety. More- 
over, if there were other relatives, they would be 
sure to know, and some of them to make trouble 
unless their mouths were closed. Practically the 
only chance of carrying such an enterprise through 
would be if the substitute were an orphan or in a 
worse position — one whose very life was an embar- 
rassment to those to whom it should be most dear. 

Here opens a field for romantic speculation. 
Such need not clash with history which is a record 
of fact. Call it romance if we will; indeed until 
we have more perfect records we must. If inven- 
tion is to be called in to the aid of deduction no one 
can complain if these two methods of exercise of 
intellect are kept apart and the boundaries between 
them are duly charted. Any speculation beyond 



THE BISLEY BOYj 339 

this can be only regarded as belonging to the region 
of pure fiction. 

In one way there is a duty which the reader must 
not shirk, if only on his own account : not to refuse 
to accept facts without due consideration. Wildly 
improbable as the Bisley story is, it is not impos- 
sible. Whoever says, offhand, that such a story 
is untrue on the face of it ought to study the 
account of a death reported at Colchester in Essex 
just a hundred years ago. A servant died who 
had been in the same situation as housemaid and 
nurse for thirty years. But only after death was 
the true sex of the apparent woman discovered. 
It was masculine ! 

Here I must remind such readers as honour my 
work with their attention that I am venturing 
merely to tell a tradition sanctioned by long time, 
and that I only give as comments historical facts 
which may be tested by any student. I have in- 
vented and shall invent nothing; and only claim 
the same right which I have in common with every 
one else — that of forming my own opinion. 

Here it is that we may consider certain additions 
to the original Bisley tradition. How these are 
connected with the main story is impossible to say 
after the lapse of centuries; but in all probability 
there is a basis of ancient belief in all that has 
been added. The following items cover the addi- 
tional ground. 



340 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

When the governess wished to hide the secret 
hurriedly, she hid the body, intending it to be only 
temporarily, in the stone coffin which lay in the 
garden at Overcourt outside the Princess's window. 

Some tens of years ago the bones of a young 
girl lying amidst rags of fine clothing were found 
in the stone coffin. 

The finder was a churchman — a man of the high- 
est character and a member of a celebrated eccle- 
siastical family. 

The said finder firmly believed in the story of 
the Bisley Boy. 

Before Elizabeth came to the throne all those 
who knew the secret of the substitution were in 
some way got rid of or their silence assured. 

The name of the substituted youth was Neville; 
or such was the name of the family with whom he 
was living at the time. 

There are several persons in the neighbourhood 
of Bisley who accept the general truth of the story 
even if some of the minor details appear at first 
glance to be inharmonious. These persons are not 
of the ordinary class of gossipers, but men and 
women of light and leading who have fixed places 
in the great world and in the social life of their 
own neighbourhood. With some of them the truth 
of the story is an old belief which makes a tie with 
any new investigator. 



THE BISLEY BOY 341 

The Unfulfilled Marriage 

The remaining' point to touch on is the unfulfilled 
marriage of the Duke of Richmond. This cer- 
tainly needs some explanation, or else the mystery; 
remains dark as ever. 

Here we have two young persons of more than 
fair presence, and graced with all the endearing 
qualities that the mind as well as the eye can grasp. 
We have the assurance of Chronicles regarding 
Henry Fitzroy; and from Holbein's picture we 
can judge for ourselves of the lady's merits. They 
are both well-to-do. The lady, one of title, daugh- 
ter of one of the most prominent Dukes in Eng- 
land, the man then holding many of the most 
important posts in the State, and with every expec- 
tation of wearing in due course the purple of roy- 
alty. They both come of families of which other 
members have been notorious for amatory episodes ; 
voluptuousness is in their blood. They have been 
old friends — and yet when they marry they at once 
separate, she going to her own folk and he to 
Windsor. Seemingly they do not meet again in the 
two and a half years that elapse before his death. 
The story about his youth and health preventing 
cohabitation is all moonshine. The affair points 
to the likelihood of some ante-matrimonial liaison 
of which, as yet, we know nothing. Applying the 
experiences of ordinary life in such cases, we can 
easily believe that Mary Howard, egged on by her 



342 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

unscrupulous and ambitiously-intriguing brother, 
was for ulterior purposes either forced or helped 
into an intrigue with the young Duke. There is no 
doubt that Surrey was unscrupulous enough for it. 
A similar design on his part — only infinitely more 
base — cost him his head. He had tried to induce 
his sister, Duchess of Richmond, to become mis- 
tress of Henry VIII — her own father-in-law! — so 
that she might have power over him; and it does 
not seem that there was any wonderful indignation 
on the part of the lady at the shameful proposal. 
We are told that when Sir John Gates and 
Sir Richard Southwell, the royal Commission- 
ers for examining witnesses in the case of the 
charge of treason against the Duke of Nor- 
folk and the Earl of Surrey, arrived at Ken- 
ninghall in the early morning and made known 
their general purposes in coming, the Duchess of 
Richmond "almost fainted." But all the same 
when she knew more exactly what they wanted she 
promised without any forcing to tell all she knew. 
As a matter of fact her evidence (with that of 
Elizabeth Holland, the mistress of the Duke of 
Norfolk) , whilst it helped to get Norfolk off, aided 
in condemning Surrey. There must have been 
some other cause for her consternation. She had 
been bred up in the midst of intrigues, polemical 
and dynastic as well as of personal ambition, and 
was well inured to keeping her countenance as well 
as her head in moments of stress. The cause of 



THE BISLEY BOY 343 

her "almost fainting" must have been something 
which concerned her even more nearly than either 
father or brother. It could only have been fear 
for her child or herself — or for both. It is possible 
that she dreaded discovery of some sort. Omne 
ignotum pro magnifico. Suspicion has long flex- 
ible tentacula, with eyes and ears at the end of 
them, which can penetrate everywhere and see and 
hear everything. She knew how to dread suspicion 
and to fear the consequences which must result 
from inquiry or investigation of any sort. If she 
had had a child it must have been kept hidden, and 
if possible far away — as the unknown Boy was 
at Bisley. Indeed the Howards had immense fam- 
ily ramifications and several of them had collateral 
relationships in and about Bisley. There were 
Nevilles there, and doubtless some of them were 
poor relations relegated to the far away place where 
living was cheap and where they might augment 
their tenuous incomes by taking in even poorer 
relations than themselves whose rich relatives 
wished to hide them away. It is only a surmise; 
but if there had been a case of a child unaccounted 
for, which any member of so great a family as 
the Howards wished to keep dark, it would be hard 
to find a more favourable locality than the little 
almost inaccessible hamlet in the Cotswolds. If 
there were such a child, how easy it would all have 
been. When the Duke was married he was four- 
teen or perhaps sixteen at most — an age which 



344 FAMOUS IMPOSTORS 

though over-young for fatherhood in the case of 
ordinary men seemed to offer to the Plantagenet- 
York-Lancaster blood no absolute difficulty of 
taking up such responsibility. As Elizabeth 
was only born some two months before the 
Duke's marriage there was not any time to 
spare — a fact which would doubtless have been 
used to his advantage if Henry's natural son had 
lived. In all probability Richmond's marriage was 
a part of the plot for aggrandisement of the How- 
ards which began with the unscrupulous securing 
by Surrey of the son of Henry VIII at the cost 
of his sister's honour; and ended with the death of 
Surrey as a traitor — a doom which his father only 
escaped by the King dying whilst the Act of At- 
tainder was lying ready for his signature. If this 
reasoning be correct — though the data on which it 
is founded be meagre and without actual proof — 
as yet — the risk of Duchess Mary's child born be- 
fore her marriage must have been a terrible hazard. 
On one side perhaps the most powerful sceptre in 
the world as guerdon; on the other death and ruin 
of the child on which such hopes were built. No 
wonder then that Duchess Mary "almost fainted" 
when in the early dawn the King's Commissioners 
conveyed to her the broad object of their com- 
ing. No wonder that freed by larger knowledge 
from the worst apprehension which could be for 
her, she announced her willingness to conceal noth- 
ing that she knew. That promise could not and 



THE BISLEY BOY 345 

would not have been made had the whole range of 
possibilities, which as yet no one suspected, been 
opened to their investigation. For even beyond 
the concern which she felt from the arbitrary power 
of the King and at the remorseless grip of the law, 
she had reason to doubt her own kin — the nearest 
of them — in such a struggle as was going on 
around them when the whole of the Empire, the 
Kingdom of England, France and Spain, and the 
Papacy were close to the melting-pot. It would 
have been but a poor look-out for a youth of a 
little more than a dozen years of age had fate made 
him the shuttlecock of such strenuous players who 
did not hold "fair play" as a primary rule of the 
game in which they were engaged. 

In his Life of Elizabeth, Gregario Leti concludes 
a panegyric on the Queen's beauty with the follow- 
ing: "This was accompanied by such inward quali- 
ties that those who knew her were accustomed to 
say that heaven had given her such rare qualities 
that she was doubtless reserved for some great work 
in the world." The Italian historian perhaps 
"builded better than he knew," for whether the 
phrase applies to the one who is supposed to have 
occupied the throne or one who did so occupy it, 
it is equally true. The world at that crisis wanted 
just such an one as Elizabeth. All honour to her 
whosoever she may have been, boy or girl matters 
not. 



INDEX 



Alcacer-el-Kebir, battle of, 20- 
22, 25. 

Ahasuerus, 111-114. 

Alvares, Matheus, 23. 

Althotas, 82. 

Ascham, Roger, letters of con- 
cerning Elizabeth, 316-318. 

Ashley, Mrs. Catherine, 284, 285, 
298," 315, 321, 323, 324. 

Austin, "Beau," murder of by 
John Law, 124, 134. 

Balsamo, Joseph, early life of, 

80-82. 
Bank of England, early history 

of, 140-142. 
Banque Generale, founding of by 

John Law, 126. 
Banque Royale, control of by 

John Law, 127, 130. 
Berners Street Hoax, 252-254. 
Beugnot, Cointe de, description 

of Cagliostro by, 86, 87. 
Bingham, Jinny, Mother Red- 

Cap, 186-189. 
Bisley, 286-291, 294. 
Bisley Boy, The, 283-345. 
Bisley Tradition, The, 291-294, 

339-340. 
Bogus Sausages, 260-262. 
Brinvilliers, Marquis de, 169-172. 
Brunneau, Mathurin, 40^-1. 
Buried Treasure Hoax, The, 258- 

259. 



Cagliostro, career of, 80-94. 

Castro, Don John de, prophecy 
of concerning Sebastian, 24, 
visit of to impostor, 26-27. 

Cat Hoax, The, 255. 

Catizzone, Marco Tullio, 27, 28, 
29. 

Catherine, Empress, 34. 

Caule, Rev. John, denunciation of 
Matthew Hopkins by, 197-198. 

Chevalier d'Eon, career of, 269- 
280. 

Compagnie des Indes, controlled 
by John Law, 127, 130. 

Cork, Simnel and Warbeck fa- 
vored by, 8-9. 

Cumberland, Duke of, 55, 56, 57, 
58. 

Croly, Rev. George, author of 
"Salathiel," 114-115. 

Czar, The False, 31-35. 

Dauphins, The False, 36-48. 
Darien Company, The, 142-143. 
Dean Swift's Hoax, 259-260. 
Dee, Dr. John, career of, 155- 
163. 



East India Company, history of 
useful to John Law, 138-140. 

East, Mary, career of as a man, 
241-246. 

Edward IV, resemblance of to 
Perk in Warbeck, 7, 11-12. 

347 



348 



INDEX 



Elizabeth, Queen, changes in 
youthful character of, 315-316, 
early life of as concerned with 
Bisley tradition, 301-306, iden- 
tity of, 310-315, 326, interest 
of in Dr. Dee, 159, 160, per- 
sonality of, 316-326, secret of, 
284-286. 

Feliciana, Lorenza de, wife of 
Cagliostro, 83-84, 89, 94. 

Flanders, importance of in 15th 
century, 6. 

Fontolive, personator of Dauphin, 
40. 

Gordon, Catherine, marriage of to 
Perkin Warbeck, 14. 

Hehl, Father, controversy of with 
Mesmer, 99. 

Henry VII, difficulties of, 3-4, 
measures of against Perkin 
Warbeck, 13-14. 

Henry VIII, activities of, 304- 
307, 309, desire of for son, 302- 
303, father of Duke of Rich- 
mond, 327-329, mystery of at- 
tude of toward Papacy, 336, 
visit of to Bisley, 291-293. 

Herbert, Henri, story of as per- 
sonator of the Dauphin, 41-46. 

Hervagault, Jean Marie, attempt 
of to personate the Dauphin, 
39-40. 

Hoaxes, 249-265. 

Hoaxed Burglars, 260. 

Hohenheim, Theophrastus Bom- 
bast von, real name of Para- 
celsus, early life of, 72-75. 

Hook, Theodore, 252, 254. 

Hopkins, Matthew, career of as 
witch-finder, 190-198. 



James IV, belief of in Perkin 

Warbeck, 13. 
Joinville, Prince de, settlement 

of Eleazar Williams' claim by, 

47. 

Kelley, Sir Edward, career of, 
175-181, friendship of with Dr. 
Dee, 161-163. 

Kenealy, Dr., course of as coun- 
sel for Tichborne Claimant, 
222-223. 

"King of Penemacor," 22-23. 

"Knight of the Cross," 23-29. 

Laski, Palatine Albert, interest 

of in Dr. Dee and Sir Edward 

Kelley, 161, 178-179. 
Law, John, career and character 

of, 123-144. 
Louis XV, friendliness of for 

Chevalier d'Eon, 270, 271, 273, 

274. 
Louis XVII, 36. 
Locke, Richard Adams, author 

of Moon Hoax, 265. 
Luie, Jean, testimony of for 

Tichborne Claimant, 221-2-2-2. 

Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, 
interest of in Perkin Warbeck, 
10-11. 

Marie Antoinette, 90-93. 

Marriage Hoax, The, 257. 

Maupin, Mile, de, career of, 235- 
241. 

Mesmer, Frederic-Antoine, career 
of, 95-103. 

Military Review, The, 256. 

Mississippi Scheme, The, forma- 
tion of by John Law, 126, 
growth and collapse of, 127- 
133. 



INDEX 



349 



Mother Damnable, story of, 182- 
189. 

Mother Black-Cap, 182, 183, 185. 

Mother Red-Cap, 182, 183, 186. 

Moon Hoax, The, 262-265. 

Morocco, invasion of by Sebas- 
tian, 19-21. 

Motte, Madame de la, plot of 
concerning Queen's Necklace, 
91-93. 

Mueley Abd-el-Mulek, 20-21. 

Naundorf, attempt of to person- 
ate the Dauphin, 46. 

Orton, Arthur, career of as Tich- 
borne Claimant, 201, 214-224. 

Paracelsus, career of, 71-79. 
Paradis, Mile., controversy over 

as patient of Mesmer, 100-101. 
Paris, Matthew, credibility of, 

108-111, 117-118, narrative of 

concerning Wandering Jew, 

107-108. 
Parr, Queen Catherine, 306, 308, 

309, 312, 315, 323, 324, 325. 
Parry, Thomas, 284, 285, 298, 315, 

321, 323. 
Persat, attempt of to personate 

the Dauphin, 40. 
Pucci, Francis, combination of 

with Sir Edward Kelley, 179. 

Richard III, consequences of law- 
less acts of, 3-4. 

Richmond, Duke of, life of as a 
natural son of Henry VIII, 
326-332, 341. 

Richmond, Duchess of, 334-335, 
341-345. 



Rohan, Cardinal Prince de, 91- 
94. 

Ryves, Mrs. A. T., 49, law-suit 
of attacking succession to Eng- 
lish throne, 58-67. 

Stephen, King of Poland, inter- 
est of in Dr. Dee,. 179. 

Snell, Hannah, career of as sol- 
dier and sailor, 231-234. 

Tichborne Claimant, The, 201- 

224. 
Tichborne Case, trial of, 218-223. 
Tichborne, Baronetcy of, 252. 
Tichborne, Lady Mabell, doom 

foretold by, 203-204. 
Tichborne, Lady, belief of in 

-son's existence, 213-214. 
Tichborne, Roger, 206-212. 
Toil-Gate Hoax, The, 256-257. 

Voison, Madame, career of, 164- 
174. 

Walpole, Horace, theory of con- 
cerning Perkin Warbeck, 8. 

Wandering Jew, The, 107-120. 

Warbeck, Perkin, career of, 5-15. 

Werbecque, Jehan, 5-6. 

Westphalus, statements of con- 
cerning Wandering Jew, 113, 
114. 

Williams, Eleazar, story of as 
personator of the Dauphin, 46- 
48. 

Wilmot, James, 50, 51, 53, 54. 

Wilmot, Olive, 50, 55. 

Witchcraft, 147-198, English 
statutes concerning, 147-148. 

Women, attempts of to disguise 
themselves as men, 227-231. 



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